x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Big orders expected at Dubai Airshow

As the Dubai Airshow gets under way today, a flurry of multibillion aircraft orders are expected as the region’s carriers showcase their expansion plans.

Chris Emerson, the vice president of product strategy and market forecast for Airbus, discusses the company's wide body aircraft at the Dubai Airshow. Charles Crowell for The National
Chris Emerson, the vice president of product strategy and market forecast for Airbus, discusses the company's wide body aircraft at the Dubai Airshow. Charles Crowell for The National

A flurry of multibillion aircraft orders are likely over the next five days as the region’s carriers use the Dubai Airshow to showcase their expansion plans.

Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and flydubai are all expected to announce large airplane purchases.

Battling to win their custom will be the American plane maker Boeing and Airbus, its European rival, reflecting the growing sway the region’s carriers hold in the global aviation market.

It means total orders are likely to eclipse the US$63 billion mark reached at the last show in 2011.

Similarly, the estimated 60,000 trade visitors and more than 1,000 exhibitors at the event will underline its rising profile, challenging the supremacy of the other two big airshows of Farnborough, southern England, and Paris.

“For too long, the balance of power has been between Paris and Farnborough. No more,” said Saj Ahmad, the chief analyst at StrategicAero Research.com, an aviation consultancy. “Now, Dubai is the place to do business.”

Emirates Airline stole the show in 2011 with a US$18bn purchase of 50 Boeing 777s. This year, it is expected to order more than 100 of the latest generation of the aircraft – the 777X, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Etihad Airways is interested in up to 30 of the aircraft, along with 30 787-9 Dreamliners, the sources said. It already has the largest fleet order for the 787-9, with 41 aircraft scheduled for delivery between next year and 2019.

The low-cost carrier flydubai is tipped to be in the market for between 50 and 75 of the revamped Boeing 737 Max. Qatar could also be ordering a batch of 777X, according to the same sources.

Germany’s Lufthansa is expected to use the event to confirm a tentative order for 34 777X.

In September, Marty Bentrott, Boeing’s vice president of sales in the Middle East, Russia and Central Asia, said he was hopeful a Middle East carrier would be among the launch customers for the plane.

Offering 20 per cent more fuel efficiency than the existing 777 model, the aircraft will come in two versions, with seating capacity for 350 to 400 passengers.

Boeing has declined to confirm whether the 777X will be officially launched at the show, saying only it would be launched “towards the end of the year”.

Airbus will be using the event to showcase its rival twin-aisle aircraft, the A350, as well as its smaller A330 and A320neos. “The Dubai Airshow will be a key battleground in the mini-jumbo war with the 777X and A350-1000,” said Daniel Tsang, of Aspire Aviation, an aviation research firm.

Away from the head to head between Boeing and Airbus, there will also be competition among manufacturers of engines and other aircraft components.

John Gay, the regional director of Rolls-Royce, which supplies aircraft engines, said the event’s new location at Dubai World Central would help to boost its profile.

“We expect it to generate worldwide attention with a number of major announcements and contract awards as well as proving a useful measure of how, and where, the world’s economy is growing fastest,” he said.

The event will also feature a strong presence by defence manufacturers. As defence government spending sags in the US and Europe, suppliers believe the GCC offers fertile ground for sales.

As an example, the Eurofighter Typhoon, built by a European consortium, and the French company Dassault’s Rafale are still locked in a contest to supply around 60 fighter jets to the UAE Air Force.

“Both aircraft are still in the competition and both aircraft have strong capabilities,” said a source familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity.

At 2011’s show, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, branded the terms on offer for the Rafale as “uncompetitive”.

tarnold@thenational.ae