Dubai Air Show opening as aviation soars following pandemic lockdowns, even as wars cloud horizon

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An Emirates Airline A-380 leads the “Al Fursan”, or the Knights, a UAE Air Force aerobatic display team, during the opening day of the Dubai Air Show, United Arab Emirates, on Nov. 12, 2017. The biennial Dubai Air Show opened Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, as airlines stood poised to make major aircraft purchases after taking off from the groundings of the coronavirus pandemic, even as Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip clouds regional security. Credit: AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File

The biennial Dubai Air Show opened Monday as airlines are poised to make major aircraft purchases after rebounding from the groundings of the coronavirus pandemic, even as Israel’s war with Hamas clouds regional security.

That conflict, as well as Russia’s war on Ukraine, likely will influence the five-day show at Al Maktoum Airport at Dubai World Central. It is the city-state’s second airfield after Dubai International Airport, which is the world’s busiest for international travel and home base for the long-haul carrier Emirates.

While commercial aviation takes much of the attention, arms manufacturers also have exhibitions at the show. Two major Israeli firms—Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. and Israel Aerospace Industries had been slated to participate.

But the IAI stand, bearing the slogan “Where Courage Meets Technology,” was roped off and empty Monday morning as people poured into the show. A stand for Rafael handed out coffee, though there were no salespeople there. A request for comment left with an attendant there was not immediately returned.

Rafael also sponsored a meeting of air force commanders Sunday at a luxury Dubai hotel, highlighting the balancing act being struck by the UAE amid anger in the Arab world over the Israel-Hamas war.

The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, established diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020.

The firm Russian Helicopters will likely have staff on hand for the air show after appearing at the Abu Dhabi arms fair earlier this year despite being sanctioned by the U.S. and others over Moscow’s attack on Ukraine. ROSCOSMOS, the Russian state space company, is also at the show.

Global aviation is booming after the coronavirus pandemic saw worldwide lockdowns and aircraft grounded—particularly at Al Maktoum Airport, which served for months as a parking lot for Emirates double-decker Airbus 380s.

Air traffic is now at 97% of pre-COVID levels, according to the International Air Transport Association. Middle Eastern airlines, which supply key East-West routes for global travel, saw a 26.6% increase in September traffic compared to a year earlier, IATA says.

Emirates, a main economic engine for Dubai amid its booming real estate market, announced record half-year profits of $2.7 billion Thursday. That is up from $1.2 billion for the same period last year, potentially putting the airline on track for another record-breaking year. The airline says it has repaid some $2.5 billion of the loans it received during the height of the pandemic to stay afloat.

Tim Clark, president of Emirates, told Bloomberg in September to “watch this space” when it comes to purchases from both Airbus and Boeing during the air show. The airline is hiring a slew of new pilots and crew, likely to staff new aircraft.

“We’ve got a lot of big plans for the airline going forward,” Clark said. “New fleet, larger numbers, larger network.”

Also in the market is Riyadh Air, a new Saudi carrier being created as part of trillions of dollars worth of spending planned in the kingdom. In March, the airline announced an order of up to 72 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner jetliners and has further plans to expand.

Turkish Airlines may also make a record-shattering purchase of 355 aircraft from Airbus, including 250 A321neo aircraft, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

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