As the global aerospace industry descends on the UAE, TIM ROBINSON previews the top news and highlights to look out for at this year’s Dubai Air Show, set to run from 12 to 16 November.

This year’s Dubai Air Show, held at the giant superhub of the Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC) is set to be the biggest ever. Some 160 aircraft will be on display and the show will again provide a global showcase for the aerospace industry to highlight its latest products and solutions.

Highlights of the flying display are set to be the J-10s from China's 1st August display team, the Russia's Sukhoi Su-35, USAF Lockheed Martin F-22 and the Beriev Be-200ES waterbomber. 

This year, the wider environment for aviation and aerospace looks far different than it was just two years ago at the previous Dubai Air Show in 2015. Trump, Brexit, protectionism, Open Skies, regional tensions between Gulf neighbours - as well as other drivers, such as accelerating trends in digitalisation, electric aviation and the commercialisation of space - means that this year’s exhibition will have a different feel to previous shows. Will it still soar? 


Commercial aviation

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Dubai will be the first major airshow after the surprise Airbus/Bombardier CSeries partnership. (Airbus)

In past years, while Dubai has been the venue for airline megadeals, as the big three Gulf airlines splurged on orders from Airbus and Boeing, this year is likely to be a far quieter show. Economic slowdown, increased competition, new immigration and security rules from the US and the fact that airlines are still digesting these fleet acquisitions (with the supply chain at times struggling to keep up)  means that purchases are likely to be on a far lower scale.

However, there may be some decent business. Emirates, despite not getting its revamped ‘A380neo’, may be set to place an order for around 25-30 A380s – a big boost for Airbus’ slow-selling superjumbo. These may not have new engines, or indeed the winglets of the ‘A380plus’ revealed at Paris this summer, but interior cabin improvements will boost efficiency. Having only just taken delivery of its 100th A380, an additional order from Emirates would allow Airbus keep the production line going, perhaps long enough for an (admittedly slim) reversal of fortunes.

One regular airline attendee and its frank CEO, well known for providing the media with pithy and direct quotes, will not be at Dubai this year – Qatar Airways – whose home nation is the subject of a diplomatic and airspace blockade by Saudi Arabia and UAE. Wisely perhaps, Airbus will not be bringing its A350-1000 prototype to the show, given that the launch customer is Qatar and it could prove embarrassing to its hosts.

Dubai will also be the first airshow since the surprise announcement that Airbus will invest in Bombardier’s CSeries – and thus will be the first time to perhaps see a joint CSeries marketing push in action. Already, after news of the partnership broke, Bombardier has revealed it won up to 50 orders from an unnamed European airline – could Dubai see the CSeries rebound with orders in the Middle East?

The show might also potentially see Airbus super salesman John Leahy perform his magic again – now with the CSeries (which he described as a “nice little plane”) to offer customers. Dubai was set to be his final air show but his fierce rivals in  Seattle have had to put the champagne back on ice as he has now indicated he will stay on as long as needed until a successor is found. With swirling rumours of boardroom politics and high-level manoeuvring at Airbus at the moment, Leahy’s presence will be a steadying face to customers. 

Meanwhile, Boeing, having triumphed in sales earlier this year at the Paris Air Show with the launch of the 737 MAX 10, will be hoping for a similar result to its Dubai showing. With its latest 737 MAXs now being delivered to airline customers (including local LCC FlyDubai which will have a 737 MAX on static) and manufacturing for its 777X widebody now underway, Boeing may also tip more of its hand on its proposed Middle Market Airplane (MMA) or ‘797’ – aimed at a 757 replacement to counter the market dominance of the A321. EgyptAir has been reported to be lining up a deal for six Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners which could be announced at the show.     



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China's 1st August display team will be performing at the show.

Ongoing conflict across the Middle East and renewed tension between regional rivals (Saudi Arabia and Iran), means that defence is set to be high on the agenda. Top of Middle East shopping lists will be anti-missile systems, fifth-gen fighters, ISR platforms, UAVs and also COIN.

Significantly while Dubai also has a strong US military presence (F-22s, AV-8Bs and other US assets will appear at the show) this year sees a big marketing push by both China and Russia who are both sending display teams to ‘fly the flag’ – with the Chinese PLAAF 1st August display team, (flying J-10 fighters) and the Russian Knights (flying Su-30s) both set to wow the crowds with aerobatics.

In particular, Russia has seen interest from Saudi Arabia for its S-400 SAM system and also from the UAE for its Su-35 multirole fighter – with Russia also sending an example of this potent aircraft, known for its jaw-dropping manoeuvrability, to the show. Talk of UAE buying Su-35s may also accelerate US approval to allow the UAE to acquire the fighter it really hungers after, the Lockheed Martin F-35. UAE support and participation in US-led or approved operations has cemented its role as a key Arab ally of Washington. This and the US President’s appetite to loosen restrictions around the export of defence equipment (witness haggling about the F-16 Block 60 export in previous years) may see that the UAE gets the green light to acquire the stealth fighter.

At the other end of the price scale from the F-35, is the Sino-Pakistan PAC JF-17 Thunder fighter which, as well as equipping the Pakistan Air Force, also has won export orders to Myanmar and Nigeria. China is now a growing and high-profile presence on the international defence export market, especially in technology, such as armed UAVs, that are restricted by US suppliers.   

Another nation with ambitions to grow its defence industry with exports is Turkey, which will be sending the TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter to the show. 

While ISIS is now a shadow of its former self, ongoing insurgencies across the Middle East and Africa means that low-cost air power and COIN platforms too will be a theme at the show, with two companies (Air Tractor and Iomax) putting their heavily armed modified cropduster attack aircraft on display. Also making an appearance at Dubai will be Textron’s Scorpion jet, fresh from an evaluation by Saudi Arabia. A new addition in this increasingly crowded market  is UAE company Cladius, which is set to unveil a ‘Tucano-class’ light attack/ISR at the air show – based on a Brazilian-designed aerobatic trainer, the Novaer T-XC.   

After the Mitsubishi MRJ and Kawasaki P-1 made their Le Bourget debuts in the summer, Dubai will also see the first international air show appearance of Japan’s Kawasaki C-2 military transporter – which the country is now promoting on the global market. Could an airlifter sale in the Middle East mark Japan’s first defence export win after it loosened the rules of exporting military equipment?

Also showing off its heavy-lift capabilities at Dubai will be Ukraine’s Antonov, which will be displaying its An-70 airlifter. It is already partnered with Saudi Arabia’s Taqnia with a co-produced An-132D, which first appeared at Le Bourget earlier this year and will make its Dubai debut. 


Supersonic travel

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The return of supersonic flight? (Boom Aerospace).

Set to appear at Dubai this year for the first time is Boom Supersonic, which is aiming to bring back supersonic commercial flight, with new technology and materials allowing travel at Mach 2.2 for 55 business class passengers. Its XB-1 one-third scale supersonic demonstrator is set to fly in 2018 and, at the Paris Air Show, the company announced that five airlines made have made a total of 76 commitments for its SST. With Gulf and Middle East airlines increasingly looking for product discriminators to market themselves, could a supersonic flagship jet be an easy sell to carriers in the region? 



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The UAE has big plans to aim for Mars including a huge training facility. (Dubai Media Office)

This year will also see spaceflight become a bigger theme at the show, as entrepreneurs such as Blue Origin, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and others open up new possibilities in commercial exploitation of the final frontier.

Only last month, Saudi Arabia announced that it would invest $1bn in Virgin Galactic – a timely boost to help Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism (and satellite launch operator) business on its final push toward flying paying passengers. The agreement also, interestingly, includes a nod to Saudi Arabia’s goal to diversify away from oil with a vision to build a “space-centric entertainment industry”.

The UAE too, has its sights on space. It already plans to send the first-ever Arab space probe to Mars, with the ‘Hope’ orbiter – set to launch in 2020 using a Japanese H-II launcher. While the probe has scientific goals, (studying the Red Planet’s atmosphere) it has also a mission of inspiring and unifying the Arab world, with Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, saying its name: “sends a message of optimism to millions of young Arabs". 

Unmanned probes, are just the start. Earlier in 2017, the UAE revealed plans that it is aiming to set up the first city on Mars in 2117, as part of a 100-year national scientific project. The first steps to this ambitious, long -term goal will be the construction of a £115m Mars Science City in the desert, which will be the largest ever Mars ‘analogue’ habitat simulation ever constructed. 

With NASA's Commercial Crew programme set to see both Boeing and SpaceX fly new spacetaxis next year, bringing opportunities for additional 'sovereign astronauts' to be flown to the ISS, means that the UAE's Space Agency may already be looking at the possibilities of its own astronaut corps.

The show is also expected to get a bit of a stardust sparkle with Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden, who will speak at the show’s Space Conference – a new two-day event at the air show.  


Aerial taxis

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Taxi please! (Volocopter)

The Dubai Air Show will also be a chance to see what progress the city has made in pioneering trials of integrating the new generation of VTOL ‘flying cars’ that promise to revolutionise urban aerial mobility. The early front-runner with a one-person passenger ‘drone’, China’s eHang, now seems to have been sidelined in favour of Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) working with Germany’s Volocopter, which has developed a two seat electric powered multirotor. With Airbus, Uber and other big names working hard to make urban aerial mobility a reality, it will thus be useful to examine Dubai’s experience so far. The flips side is if the UAE, with a supportive and aviation-minded Government and a laser-like focus on its goals, can’t make flying cars work in Dubai, a city that at times seems to have materialised in the desert from the future, then what hope for other cities?      


Business aviation

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A key market for business aviation.

Dubai and the Gulf, home of high-rollers and the rich is also a key market for business aviation manufacturers – and the static display will see aircraft ranging from Deer Jets VIP 787, to the Cirrus SF50 VLJ. Other bizjets on display will be Dassault’s Falcon 8X and Falcon 900LX, Embraer’s Legacy 500, Legacy 650E and Lineage 1000E, Gulfstream’s G650ER, G550 and G280, as well as Global 6000, Challenger 350 from Bombardier and ACJ319 from Airbus. 

In helicopters and rotary wing, Dubai will also see the SAR-cabin of the Leonardo AW609 tiltrotor on display. 


The Royal Aeronautical Society at Dubai

Look out for copies of AEROSPACE at the show!

The Royal Aeronautical Society, which has a local Branch in the UAE, will also be at the Dubai Air Show, on Stand 2018. Come along and find out about individual and corporate membership, inquire our professional development and career services and pick up a copy of AEROSPACE magazine.


Stay ahead of all the news

To follow all the news at Dubai don’t forget to bookmark and follow the daily airshow news on the Insight blog. For those on Twitter, follow @AeroSociety and use the hashtag #DAS17. Editor-in-Chief Tim Robinson will be tweeting live from the show on @RAeSTimR

10 November 2017