Dubai Air Show opening as aviation soars following pandemic lockdowns, even as wars cloud horizon

The biennial Dubai Air Show is opening as airlines are poised to make major aircraft purchases after rebounding from the groundings of the coronavirus pandemic, even as Israel’s war withn Hamas clouds regional security

Jon Gambrell
Monday 13 November 2023 04:18 GMT
Dubai Air Show
Dubai Air Show

The biennial Dubai Air Show opens Monday as airlines are poised to make major aircraft purchases after rebounding from the groundings of the coronavirus pandemic, even as Israel's war with Hamas clouds regional security.

That conflict, as well as Russia's war on Ukraine, likely will influence the five-day show at Al Maktoum Airport at Dubai World Central. It is the city-state's second airfield after Dubai International Airport, which is the world's busiest for international travel and home base for the long-haul carrier Emirates.

While commercial aviation takes much of the attention, arms manufacturers also have exhibitions at the show. Two major Israeli firms — Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. and Israel Aerospace Industries are participating.

Rafael also sponsored a meeting of air force commanders Sunday at a luxury Dubai hotel, highlighting the balancing act being struck by the UAE amid anger in the Arab world over the Israel-Hamas war. The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, established diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020.

The firm Russian Helicopters likely will have staff on hand for the air show after appearing at the Abu Dhabi arms fair earlier this year despite being sanctioned by the U.S. and others over Moscow's attack on Ukraine. ROSCOSMOS, the Russian state space company, also is at the show.

Global aviation is booming after the coronavirus pandemic saw worldwide lockdowns and aircraft grounded — particularly at Al Maktoum Airport, which served for months as a parking lot for Emirates double-decker Airbus 380s.

Air traffic is now at 97% of pre-COVID levels, according to the International Air Transport Association. Middle Eastern airlines, which supply key East-West routes for global travel, saw a 26.6% increase in September traffic compared to a year earlier, IATA says.

Emirates, a main economic engine for Dubai amid its booming real estate market, announced record half-year profits of $2.7 billion Thursday. That is up from $1.2 billion for the same period last year, potentially putting the airline on track for another record-breaking year. The airline says it has repaid some $2.5 billion of the loans it received during the height of the pandemic to stay afloat.

Tim Clark, president of Emirates, told Bloomberg in September to “watch this space” when it comes to purchases from both Airbus and Boeing during the air show. The airline is hiring a slew of new pilots and crew, likely to staff new aircraft.

“We've got a lot of big plans for the airline going forward,” Clark said. “New fleet, larger numbers, larger network.”

Also in the market is Riyadh Air, a new Saudi carrier being creataed as part of trillions of dollars worth of spending planned in the kingdom. In March, the airline announced an order of up to 72 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner jetliners and has further plans to expand.

Turkish Airlines also may make a record-shattering purchase of 355 aircraft from Airbus, including 250 A321neo aircraft, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

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