The biennial Dubai Airshow stands alongside Paris and Farnborough airshows as one of the world’s most important trade airshows. The Middle East remains a very significant market for all sectors of the aerospace industry and as a result, Dubai sees a wide range of exhibitors and visitors from across the globe. This year saw Dubai expand its event into the Space sector as the United Arab Emirates develops its own space programme.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
The Dubai Airshow grew out of a trade event called ‘Arab Air.’ The event, much like the region, has changed beyond recognition thanks to rapid evolution in the aerospace industry and global business. It now sits alongside Paris and Farnborough as one of the world’s most important aerospace trade exhibitions and airshows. The event was initially held at Dubai International Airport (DXB) but it now held at a purpose built venue at Al Maktoum International Airport, part of the Dubai World Central development. In the years to come, this will take-over at s Dubai’s main international hub airport boasting up to five runways and three terminals.
Currently two runways are in operation at the huge airport site. The airshow venue sits at the south eastern end of the airport complex with its own impressive exhibition centre plus a large apron area. Dubai is often described as one of the most exclusive airshows and is only open to visitors from the aerospace industry. It runs for five days during the Arab working week (Sunday – Thursday) and in 2019 attracted 1,288 exhibitors and 84,043 visitors. Show organisers reported some $54.5 billion of trade were completed during the show week.
At the forefront of the exhibitors at Dubai were local companies. The EDGE Group was recently formed in Abu Dhabi and integrates over 25 entities from Emirates Defence Industries Company, Emirates Advanced Investments Group, Tawazun Holding, and other independent organisations. EDGE had the biggest exhibition space at the show with a very futuristic display highlighting a number of locally developed security and defence products.
For the first time, Dubai Airshow had a space pavilion in its exhibition hall. Alongside the pavilion, the show also hosted its first Space Tech Talks conference. This reflected the UAE increased participation on space exploration projects. Amongst the speakers at the show was Colonel Al Worden, who served as the Command Module Pilot of Apollo 15, He also spoke about his new Endeavour Scholarship which will see four Emirati students and two teachers sent to space camp in the USA. Colonel Worden said: “The UAE is the first and we’re going to do that with eight different countries initially, because these young people are our future. We’re trying to motivate them into space and we want them to understand what science, technology, engineering and maths are all about.”
But as with any major trade show, it was the orders battle between Airbus and Boeing that stole the headlines. Airbus perhaps had the best time of it in Dubai but both manufacturers attracted orders. Emirates placed orders for both the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787-9 during the show as the Dubai based airline continues to develop its fleet. There were also several orders from low cost airlines for Airbus and Boeing aircraft.
On the defence side, Lockheed Martin and the UAE government signed a deal to support the countries fleet of F-16E/F Fighting Falcons. The UAE also announced it would be buying the indigenously developed Calidus B-250 close air support aircraft which was on show in the static display.
Outside of the exhibition halls and the chalet line, Dubai hosted an impressive static display of aircraft. Alongside the manufacturer’s own demonstrator aircraft, the UAE’s two major airlines had a major presence. Emirates Airlines showed off the two aircraft which form the backbone of their operations, the Airbus A380-800 and the Boeing 777-300ER. Both aircraft were available for cabin tours and both wore Emirates special colour scheme celebration Expo2020 which will be hosted by Dubai at a special built sight close to Dubai World Central. Not to be outdone, Etihad had their eye-catching Manchester City schemed Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on show. Both airlines also displayed examples from their training fleets with Embraer Phenom 100s from both airlines plus a Cirrus CR22 from Emirates.
Alongside the Emirates A380, Airbus also had an impressive selection of its products on show including an A350-900 newly delivered to Fiji Airlines, an Egyptair Airbus A220-300, an A319CJ Corporate Jet, an AirbusDS CN295M from the UAE Air Force plus a Royal Air Force A400M Atlas C1.
Also unveiled at Dubai by Airbus was the first E-Racer aircraft for the new Air Race-E series. The series will see electric-powered aircraft compete on closed pylon circuits at venues around the world. Airbus is backing the series with the aim of shining a light on the electrification of aviation as well as aiding further development of the technology in much the same way that electric car technology is supported by motorsport. Air Race-E CEO Jeff Zaltman and Sandra Bour Schaeffer, head of Airbus Group Demonstrators unveiled the first competitor in the series, ‘White Lightning’ from Team Condor. The airframe is no stranger having initially been built by Andrew Chadwick in 1980 by Andrew Chadwick. Team Condor, under the leadership of Martyn Wiseman have rebuilt White Lightning around a new and innovative electric drivetrain from Contra-Electric. This twin-motor arrangement powers contra-rotating propellers which give White Lighting a new and very distinctive look.
Brazil’s Embraer has become quite a major participant at major trade shows with its range of civilian and military aircraft. Heading its line-up was the newly renamed C-390 Millennium multi-role transport aircraft exhibited alongside the EMB-314 Super Tucano demonstrator and a selection of their corporate jet range. Embraer also exhibited their E190-E2 airliner wearing a striking ‘Profit-Hunter’ colour scheme.
One of the more unusual displays came from Chinese company Chengdu which exhibited its Wing Loong I and Wing Loong II remotely piloted aerial systems together with an impressive array of stores. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia alredy use the Wing Loong which has picked up significant exports success.
Many of the military aircraft in the static display were drawn from the UAE Air Force. Grob exhibited two examples of UAEAF G120TP training aircraft one of which was fitted with an underwing surveillance pod. Both EDGE and Boeing had examples of UAE Sikorsky UH-60M Blackhawk and Boeing CH-47F Chinook aircraft on show as well. UAE UH-60Ms are used for close air support missions as well as transport and can carry a formidable payload on the fuselage mouth stub pylons. The UAE Air Force and Joint Air Command had its own display of equipment with a Leonardo MB339NAT from Al Fursan, F-16F Fighting Falcon, Dassault Mirage 2000-9D, UH-60M Blackhawk, Boeing AH-64D Apache on display. One of the JAC de Havilland Canada Twin Otters was also on display complete with mini-gun fitted in the rear cargo door. One of the UAEAF’s future types was also on display thanks to SAAB with the Bombardier Global 6000 based ‘Globaleye’ airborne early warning and control aircraft. Three of these aircraft are on order for the UAEAF and are due to be delivered early in 2020.
The United States Department of Defence often supports trades shows with displays of its military capability. With the Middle East such an important theatre of operations for the US its display at Dubai was very impressive. The United States Air Force was represented on the ground with the Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor, a pair of F-16CJ Fighting Falcons, A-10C Thunderbolt II, F-15E Strike Eagle, C-130J-30 Hercules II and a Boeing E-3G Sentry. Tucked almost out of the way was one of the USAF’s newest tankers, the KC-46A Pegasus. The US Navy was just as well represented with a complete line-up of Super Hornet variants from the USS Abraham Lincoln. An example of the single seat F/A-18E was joined by a F/A-18F from VFA-103 ‘Jolly Rogers’ in a buddy air-to-air refuelling configuration and a E/A-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft. Completing the US Navy contribution were rare appearances by a Northrop-Grumman E-2D Hawkeye and a Sikorsky MH-53E Sea Dragon.
Each day of the Dubai Airshow saw a three hour afternoon flying display. On the opening day the display was opened by a spectacular Emirati flypast featuring military and civilian aircraft. It was headed by UAW Joint Air Command assets with three Boeing AH-64D Apaches leaded a trio of Sikorsky UH-60M Blackhawks and then a further trio of Boeing CH-47F Chinooks. The fixed wing section was headed by the now traditional Dubai sight of an Emirates A380-800 ahead of Al Fursan who were leaving a thick smoke trail of the UAE national colours. Like the Emirates aircraft in the static display, the A380 wore the new colour scheme reflecting the upcoming Expo2020. Rounding off the flypast were two formations from the UAE Air Force. First came a Boeing C-17A Globemaster III leading four F-16E Fighting Falcons before the closing combination of AirbusDS A330MRTT and four Dassault Mirage 2000-9s. It was an impressive opening and significant demonstration of the UAE’s investment in commercial and military aviation.
Unusually for a trade event, the Dubai Airshow always features a number of national display teams in its flying displays. This year, La Patrouille de France made the trip out to the UAE for a short tour which not only encompassed Dubai but also displays alongside Al Fursan over the Abu Dhabi Corniche. During airshow week they also overflew many of Dubai’s landmarks together with the Emirati counterparts.
The Saudi Hawks with their seven BAE Systems Hawk Mk65a trainers also appeared at Dubai as part of a longer stay in the UAE. At least during their opening display of the Dubai airshow week the clear blue skies afforded the team the chance to present their full show painting the national emblem of Saudi Arabia in the skies over Dubai.
The UAE’s national display team Al Fursan flying seven Aermacchi MB339NAT aircraft were very much the stars of the show for many throughout the week. Thanks to coaching from former members of Il Frecce Tricolori and Patrouille de France their display has really developed since the team first appeared in 2012. Though there are recognisable nods to figures performed by European teams, Al Fursan’s display is very original and has some very spectacular and unique manoeuvres – not least their corkscrew finale which is now famous the world over after their performances during the Abu Dhabi grand prix weekend.
Providing some contrast to the big jet teams where The Blades. Following the end of their UK season in September, the team crated their aircraft out to the UAE for their own special tour. As well as appearances at events such as the Dubai Airshow, the team plan to start their unique passenger flying operations from Skydive Abu Dhabi over the winter months before returning to UK skies next year with their new Gamebird aircraft.
More traditional forms of passenger flight were demonstrated in the flying display by both Airbus and Boeing. Airbus demonstrated the A330-900NEO (New Engine Option) on the opening three days of show with a typical dramatic display routine. However it was the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner that caught the eye not least for its eye-popping colour scheme. The dazzling mix of pink and purple that adorned Boeing’s demonstrator is the largest full-body decal ever tested on a composite aircraft. It is part of test programme to certify such large decals which could be used by airlines in the near future. The scheme itself celebrates the company’s Employee Community Fund which supports a number of non-profit organisations across the US.
In 2017, Russian aviation was a strong feature of the Dubai flying display and that continued in 2019 with a Dubai debut by the Russian Helicopters conglomerate and Irkut. Russian Helicopters had two types in the display with the first to appear being the Kazan Ansat. The type first flew in 1999 and initially was used as a training helicopter for the Russian helicopter. Since then Kazan has developed the type for VIP, utility and medical evacuation roles. Joining the Ansat was the Mil Mi-38 transport helicopters. The Mi-38 was initially developed as a replacement for Mil’s Mi-8/17/171 range of utility helicopters which fly all around the globe in military and civilian roles. The Mi-38 is a brand new design, but takes several cues from its predecessors like the rugged tricycle landing gear and five bladed rotor. The Mi-38 has been developed for military and civilian roles but at Dubai was shown in a VIP configuration with a luxurious cabin.
The Irkut Corporation presented the Yakovlev Yak-130 ‘Mitten’ advanced jet trainer. The UAE and several other air forces are looking to renew their training fleets the Yak-130 is one the types currently under evaluation. The example being displayed at Dubai wore a typical Russian Air Force camouflage scheme and though it was fitted with underwing pylons didn’t carry any stores. Its display was one of the surprises of the week and included tail-slides and even a near stall-turn highlighting the type’s exceptional handling.
Further eastern European participation in the flying displays came from the Ukrainian Motor Sich company with its Mil Mi-2MSB-1. This is a modernised version of the Mi-2 utility helicopter with a new engine and is looking to attract customers from Asia and Africa where there are a number of current Mi-2s in use. Like the Russian Helicopters aircraft, the example on display at Dubai was shown in a VIP fit with an eye-catching paint scheme.
The Japanese Air Self Defence Force debuted the Kawasaki C-2A transporter aircraft on static display at Dubai 2017. The C-2 was on show again in 2019 on static display and it also made a couple of flying appearances during the week. The crew gave quite a short routine, but highlighted the type’s ability to turn tightly as well as being remarkable quiet.
Much of the flying displays came from military fast jets and the UAE Air Force presented its Lockheed Martin F-16E Fighting Falcon and Dassault Mirage 2000-9 solo jet displays throughout the week. The F-16E display follows very much in the spirit of Royal Netherlands and Belgian Air Force display routines with smokewinders fitted to the wingtips and a flowing routine of aerobatics highlighting the type’s agility. The Mirage 2000-9 is however a real gem of a solo display. In the 1990’s, Mirage solo displays from the French were showstoppers wherever they appeared and the UAEAF pilots have carried on that mantle with their routine with eye-catching routines showing off the aircraft at all corners of the flying envelope.
Further displays came from types often deployed to the Middle East from western Air Forces. The opening two days of the show saw a flypast from four Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4s in a tight box four formation. By contrast Dassault Rafale C of the French Air Force gave a full and very dramatic solo display in the hands of Capitane Sébastien ‘Babouc’ Nativel who is in his second year as display pilot.
The United States Air Force had three different types represented in the flying display representing two generations of multi-role fighter aircraft. There was a rare flying display appearance from the McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle on each day of the show. The aircraft and crew came from the 48th Fighter Wing based at RAF Lakenheath and performed two noisy turn and burn flypasts along the display before a final zoom climb to depart.
Lt. Col. Paul ‘Loco’ Lopez closed his season as the USAF Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor demonstration pilot in Dubai. Loco’s display was one of the outstanding highlights of the display showing off the large ‘air-dominance’ fighter full range of thrust-vectoring tricks at close quarters. The F-22 is a large fighter and it is always a captivating watch particularly at it rapidly pitches up like a Cobra or almost somersaults at slow speed!
Surprisingly, Dubai 2019 was the first time the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II had been on display at a Middle Eastern airshow. Like the F-15E, it was not shown off in a full display but a pair of aircraft with the 388th Fighter Wing gave a series of noisy flypasts before performing a zoom climb.
Dubai Airshow benefits from superb facilities for a trade show. While the likes of Farnborough and Paris have their own legacy and more exhibition space, Dubai more than holds its own as one of the most important and impressive trade shows. Commenting on the 2019 edition, Michele van Akelijen, Managing Director of show organisers Tarsus F&E LLC Middle East, said: “We always want to outperform our last show, and 2019 has gone above and beyond expectation, with so much great business being done alongside an engaging and innovative programme of conferences, exhibits and flying displays. We have already seen exhibitors rebooking for the next edition, and we look forward greatly to seeing what the next two years of aerospace development will bring to our 2021 edition.”