x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Bold visions, big ideas and high flyers meet

High-profile delegates touching down in Abu Dhabi for the Global Aerospace Summit reflect the changing needs of industry and the shift of commercial aviation from West to East - and into the cosmos.

David Hess, center, the president of Pratt & Whitney. Christopher Pike / The National
David Hess, center, the president of Pratt & Whitney. Christopher Pike / The National

If the list of delegates attending the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi read like a who's who of the modern aviation industry, it was with good reason.

The event this week attracted manufacturers and operators of satellites, airliners and military aircraft from across the world.

The high turnout at the forum came at a time when airlines outside of manufacturers' western heartlands account for an increasing share of orders, said Jim Albaugh, the president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

"Where we see the biggest growth is Asia-Pacific, and right here [in the Emirates]," he said. "Our biggest country customers are the US, China and the UAE. We know we have to adapt."

The assembled delegates included Tony Tyler, the director general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, and 22 industry chief executives representing companies including Finmeccanica of Italy and Arianespace, a French manufacturer of space rockets.

Airlines were also well represented, with appearances from the chief executives of Qatar Airways, SpiceJet and flydubai, and Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the chairman of Emirates Group.

At times, the rivalry and showmanship on display seemed a throwback to the first days of flight - as the pioneers behind the commercial space tourism industry declared their visions of the future of aviation, which included building space hotels and mining passing asteroids for rare metals.

George Whitesides, the chief executive of Virgin Galactic, announced a commercial spaceport in Abu Dhabi - only a day after Curaçao, a Caribbean island nation, staked its claim that by 2014 it would be the first country to have a manned commercial space programme outside of the United States.

In this charged atmosphere, it was little surprise to see Akbar Al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, reprimanding fellow panel members from Boeing, Airbus and the engine maker Pratt & Whitney before hundreds of assembled delegates over delays in order deliveries - and putting the boot into European policymakers for good measure.