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Dubai Airshow

By Gulshan Luthra Published : December 2007

Like everything else in Dubai, the Dubai Air Show 2007 has been a mega event, better than before and better ever.

When the first edition of Dubai Air Show was first inaugurated in 1989, it was not a modest beginning.

The event was promising, indicative of the growth that military and civil aviation would take place in the Gulf and elsewhere in the Middle East. The Government of Dubai was enthusiastic for the success of this show, indeed as it always is for anything that it does for the growth of this great cosmopolitan city.

This writer has had the privilege to attend most of them, beginning 1989, and it is no surprise today that more than US$ 55 billion worth of orders were announced this time, albeit for civilian aircraft. Here are bound to be some other expressions of interest in aircraft and systems for the military and security organization in the region; they would come be known only over time.

Emirates, the world’s fastest growing airline, bought nearly $ 35 billion worth of 100 Airbus wide-body jets while Qatar Airways, another airline from the Gulf ordered more than $ 13.5 billion worth of newer 57 Boeing jets.

At least $ 5 billion worth or orders were given by other airlines and operators, including the Dubai Aerospace Company (DAC), Pakistan’s Air Blue, Yemenia and Etihad. There was an announcement about the world’s biggest MRO in the UAE, and an exhibition in March 2009 aimed at training skilled personnel.

“Massive growth from regional carriers, which is predicted to need 8,000 additional pilots by 2025, and with more than US$ 80 billion being invested in GCC aerospace infrastructure, demand for skilled aviation professionals is at an all time high in the Middle East,” said Alison Weller, Director Aerospace of Fairs & Exhibitions (F&E), which has been holding the Dubai Air Show from its inception.

The number of ‘Firsts’ that Dubai scores is not surprising any more; from beautiful roads and infrastructure, hotels, resorts, golf clubs, international conference facilities, beaches, duty-free shops, every thing literally takes off towards glorious heights.

Organized by the London-based Fairs and Exhibitions from its debut, the 10th edition of the Dubai Air Show this year was no exception.

It has caught on with the Farnborough and Paris air shows.

In 1989, there were about 200 exhibitors in an area of 7000 sq meters at the Dubai International Airport. Leading companies brought 25 aircraft, marveling the residents and visitors with five days of daring aerobatic displays. In some cases, visitors – media personnel at least –could touch those magnificent fighter jets which one saw in the air some time or in films and TV shows.

The US showed its F 16, the French Mirage 2000, the British Harriers jump jets, while the Russians flaunted their SU 27 with its famous cobra man oeuvre, that is virtually a patent now for their SU 30 and the new Mig 35, the latter being an upgraded and more powerful version of the Mig 29 that Russia is trying to export.

Dubai’91, the air show held two years later was delayed by a few months due to the Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from Iraq, but there were 400 participants from 40 nations and 67 aircraft.

The tally for the Dubai Air show 2007 was nearly 140 aircraft from across the globe, including a host
of new-to-market models ranging from strike fighters to trainers, VIP Business jets from Boeing and Hawker Beech craft, heavy cargo carriers, Airbus A 380 and Airbus A 350 from EADS, Boeing 777, Helicopters from Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Euro copter, Missile systems from Raytheon, radars and electronic warfare systems from Northrop Grumman as well as its naval spying aircraft, the Advanced Hawkeye 2D, and so on.

Some 70 countries took part, several of them at the ministerial and Chiefs of Staff level, including
From India which has opened as the world’s second biggest market for military and civil aircraft for the
simple reason that every aircraft in its military inventory at least – with the exception of SU 30 MKI – is 20- plus years old, thanks to a full stop on acquisitions by the government in 1990.

Minister of State for Defense Pallam Raju, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral An up Singh, Deputy Chief of Air Staff B N Go hale and other senior officers accompanied him.

Air shows are known for unveiling of new technologies.

It was at the Dubai’91 for instance that the US displayed its F 117A Nighthawk stealth fighter and Apache AH 64 helicopters that were extensively used in Iraq.

I had the opportunity of seeing the stealth fighter gracefully land at the airport in the evening a day before the air show opened. Not much was known about these flying machines then and the public was generally awed by the bat-shaped stealth fighter.

In fact, it was my son Nitin, on a holiday from his school, the Mayo College in India, who excitedly pointed out to the aircraft as we were driving on a road alongside the airport. I was then posted in Dubai as Chief of Bureau, Middle East, for a news organization.

I learned then that there was a lot of use of composites and kevlar in the Apache while the development of the Stealth fighter was surprisingly based on the findings of a Russian physicist, Pyotr Ya Ufimtsev, who said that edges of an aircraft, and not its size, would determine its radar signature.

The Americans are still making the best use of this finding, and their F 22 Raptor, and partly F 35 Lightning II, is based on this theory. Boeing claims some element of stealth in its F-18 Super Hornet as well.

Future warfare is actually all about bridging the gap between target acquisition and engagement. That’s what military aircraft companies like Boeing, Lockheed and Raytheon talked about.

The advent of communications at high speed, supersonic and now speed of light has changed warfare.

Aerobatic capabilities of aircraft are perhaps that much irrelevant as technologies like Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar of Northrop Grumman and Raytheon have extended Beyond the Visual Range (BVR) engagement potential of fighter jets to new capabilities.

In fact the UAE Air Force was among the first to realize the value of this radar and paid for its development while buying its 80 F-16 Block 60 jets.

India has floated a $ 10 billion tender for medium Multi Role Combat Jets (MRCA) and according to former Indian Chief of Air Staff S P Tyagi, capabilities like AESA would determine the winner. The Indian Air Force (IAF) expects the first batch of the aircraft to be inducted by 2012.

Notably, the Euro fighter, one of the contenders for the Indian Air Force (IAF), is now on the acquisition list of Saudi Arabia, who’s state-run Alsalam Aircraft Company, was also present at the air show.

Alsalam, which collaborates with Boeing, is responsible for tens of billion of dollars worth of offset programmers since 1988 towards creating indigenous civil and military aviation capabilities in the kingdom, looking after acquisition to servicing of US and European aircraft.

Aviation in the UAE has come of age, both in military and civilian aircraft. The UAE has a modern, impressive air force, while the Dubai based Emirates has steadily displayed exemplary growth.

Civil aircraft and helicopters have been maintained at Abu Dhabi, and now, the Mubadala Development Company has unveiled Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies (ADAT), a subsidiary company positioned to become a top-tier provider in maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) by transforming the former Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Company (GAMCO).

ADAT hopes to capture a sizeable chunk of the MRO market not only in the Gulf and Middle East but also in India.

All these developments point out that the Dubai Air show, already the world’s third biggest is set to fly higher.

  © India Strategic  
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