|By Niha Luthra||Published: November 2017|
Dubai. Dubai is about glamour, excellence and heights, be it malls, buildings, even parks or whatever. The Dubai Airshow is no exception, and I have seen it grow ever since I was a child and it was first held in 1989 on a major scale by Fairs & Exhibition of London. I lived in this beautiful city then.
In fact one evening, a day before the show opened in 1991, I was on a drive by the airport with my elder brother Nitin, who suddenly shouted: Stealth plane. The F-117 was steadily gliding towards the runway and even though it was the darker side of twilight, a keen eye as that of my brother, who was then just 14, could discern it.
One doesn’t have to be a pilot to have some interest in aviation; it can be a passion even for the passengers. Particularly children, and I can say my entire family is child-like when it comes to aircraft and aerospace.
As usual, every edition of the Dubai Airshow is better than the previous one. This is what the organizers have promised, and I’m sure, as a witness to some of them over the years, the Dubai Airshow 2017 is indeed going to be so.
Being held November 12-16, it is going to the biggest in the Middle East, and certainly not far behind in comparison to the others in Europe. The show is very important in every aspect as the six Arab Gulf states are among the biggest spenders on defence, military and civil aviation included, and there has been tension in this strategic oil-rich region particularly after the Iran Iraq war in the 1980s, and later the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the resulting 1991 war to liberate this important member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) alliance.
The Gulf countries also became independent only in the 1970s, and thanks to the requirement for safeguarding their oil wealth, and stability in their neighbourhood, their demands for modern weapons and newer defence capabilities will always be high.
Obviously, the Dubai Airshow, initiated in 1986 but held on a big scale from 1989 onwards, has played and will continue to play a big role.
There were 200 exhibitors and 25 aircraft in 1989, and more than 1100 exhibitors and 163 aircraft in 2015.
There were some showstoppers during the various events: In 1991, Lockheed Martin’s stealth plane F 117 Nighthawk and Boeing Apache combat helicopter made their first appearance here after conducting many successful strikes against the Iraqi forces in the First Gulf War.
In 1989, the Soviet/ Russian Su 27 drew wide eyed attention with its cobra maneuvers and top UAE Air Force officers were seen boarding the plane just after the show was over.
Virtually every modern combat jet from the Boeing F/A 18 Super Hornet, which also conducted day and night strikes in the 1991 and 2003 Gulf Wars, to Lockheed Martin’s F 16, European consortium’s Eurofighter and the French Rafale have taken part in the show. So have the trainers like the BAE Systems Hawk and Alenia Aermacchi M 346 which have given successful demonstrations here resulting in sales.
It’s been the same story with helicopters, and civil aircraft, unmanned systems and space. There are cutting edge technologies like 3D printing for aircraft, and as for space, the UAE has announced plans to send an unmanned mission to Mars in 2021, the 50th anniversary of the country’s formation.
In fact, the UAE has already invested more than USD 5 billion in space venture, and there are aerospace industries supplying structures to both the Boeing and Airbus.
Emirates began its operations with two Airbus A 300 leased from PIA in 1985, and ever since, has been among its biggest customers. Naturally, the huge A 380, the biggest double-decker jumbo yet, made its Middle East debut at the Dubai Airshow in 2005.
It’s been the same story with every aircraft every since, and Boeing’s 747 , 767s, 777 and 787 have all made fruitful flying displays here. Dubai in fact became the first hub in the region with Emirates launching good onboard passenger care and international flights East and West to ferry passengers say from Singapore and Australia to Europe and the US and vice versa. Dubai is in the middle of the world time zones, and it has appropriately utilized that facility for international travel and its own economy, which is largely based on duty free sales, tourism and conference facilities.
Even business jets record good sales turnover here.
An impressive sight at the Dubai Airshow’15 was the static display of UAE-made Yabhon Unmanned aircraft, both propeller and jet powered. It should have been tested in Russia as per reports from Moscow but I am not aware of the results. Meanwhile though, according to reports from Washington, UAE has purchased five Predator XP UAS from the US; and all have been delivered. The XP variant is for surveillance and according to earlier reports published by India Strategic, is configured for some specific Emirati requirements.
Asked about the details, Dr Vivek Lall, Chief Executive US and International Strategic Development, General Atomics, said the company executes its unmanned aircraft orders in accordance with US Government policies, “and that’s all I can comment.”
Obviously, there is a great demand for unmanned systems in and around the region, specifically because of their long loitering time, precision engagement capability and of course, because there is no human pilot onboard, and distant remote control.
The Dubai Airshow is one of those superb expos that the Dubai Government holds throughout the year. The edition this time hopefully may throw some surprises!
Ahlan Wah Sahlan. Welcome.