Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 12 December 2019

Dubai Airshow: at the cusp of innovation

The five-day event has made the UAE a global showcase for groundbreaking technologies

A visitor takes a picture near a Boeing 777 at the Dubai Airshow on Wednesday. Chris Whiteoak / The National
A visitor takes a picture near a Boeing 777 at the Dubai Airshow on Wednesday. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The biennial Dubai Airshow provides a window to the technological innovations being made by the biggest companies in the fields of aviation, aerospace and defence. Just as crucially, it gives a sneak peek into the progress the UAE is making as it continues to diversify in its bid to secure a post-oil future. Even though this year’s iteration was greeted with overcast skies and storms, the forecast for the industries involved remains far from gloomy.

Given that flagging global growth has taken its toll on the aviation industry worldwide, there was a relatively muted run-up to the five-day event that kicked off on Sunday. But instead of a subdued climate, a series of significant contracts were announced during the week. Emirates ordered 30 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners in a deal worth $8.8 billion. Airbus proved the big winner overall as it netted over $30bn in new orders, compared to contracts worth about $17bn for Boeing. The buzz around the airshow reflected the fact we live in an era of globalisation, international networks and long-haul travel, where the idea of taking a 19-hour direct flight from London to Sydney is no longer a fanciful notion but a reality. Airline executives struck an optimistic note about the future of the aviation business. Emirates president Tim Clark declared that “Emirates will restart its expansion” by the early 2020s.

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What is most promising about the aviation sector is its emphasis on sustainability, which is in turn fuelling technological innovation. Etihad, for example, is looking to roll out its Greenliner incorporating more environmentally friendly features. The use of electric or hybrid planes and autonomous flights are also within the realms of possibility.

Meanwhile, the UAE is looking to make major advances in space exploration and military capability. The world’s smallest space rover, called the Spider Rover, will be sent on a mission to find habitable places for humans on the Moon and will be tested in the Abu Dhabi desert. The country also seeks to establish itself as a major player in the security field, with the defence ministry unveiling 15 major contracts involving ammunition, planes and military equipment. Deals signed by the newly launched Edge, an Abu Dhabi conglomerate of 25 local entities in the security and artificial intelligence field, will help develop new systems to deal with threats from militants and will make it possible to become an exporter of cutting-edge technology – opportunities that will no doubt spur job creation.

Plenty of other less headline-grabbing but equally important deals were being signed on the sidelines over the past week.

The airshow was a showcase of new technologies that are bound to become commonplace in the future. While some disruption is inevitable in the industry, there are more gains to be made in the near future. It is events like this that serve as a reminder that with the brightest of minds available, the sky’s the limit when it comes to new opportunities, with the UAE at the forefront of those initiatives.

Updated: November 21, 2019 07:55 PM

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