Yet another massive widebody order from Emirates at last week’s Dubai air show has further reinforced how crucial the region is to the prospects of the global civil aerospace industry as it continues to accelerate out of its post-9/11 slump.

But the Gulf is quickly emerging as a key marketplace and potential player in its own right in another fast-growing aerospace sector – unmanned air vehicles.

In 2003, Dubai had a negligible UAV content: this year UAVs made up at least a tenth of the show, with nine never before seen aircraft and new systems on display from Turkey, Russia, South Korea and the UAE itself.

Fuelled by soaring oil revenues, the Gulf is rapidly modernising its armed forces and paramilitary capabilities. While this creates a ready market, geopolitical sensitivities mean global suppliers and their governments are still nervous about technology transfer, and nowhere more so than in the highly sensitive arena of UAVs. The USA – the undisputed leader in the sector – is the most anxious about exporting its UAV know-how. This has shut the door to several prominent manufacturers, both in terms of selling kit and also partnering with local industry.

While every air show seems to be targeting UAVs, Dubai has tapped into a genuinely booming sector. It is one which the world’s defence giants ignore at their peril.

Source: Flight International