Dubai Airshow opens to industry in improvement amid COVID-19
Dubai The biennial Dubai Air Show opened on Sunday to a world still reeling from the pandemic and an airline industry hit hard by the coronavirus, but it is improving.
Boeing and Airbus have long been the stars of the trade fair, competing over billions of dollars in purchases for Gulf carriers and hammering out final details minutes before back-to-back press conferences. However, this year the five-day fair is expected to be quieter than in past years due to the poor flight and travel situation amid the COVID-19 pandemic and delays in the global supply chain that have affected aircraft manufacturers.
Dubai went into a brief lockdown last year, but has since opened its doors to vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers as it tries to restore spending on leisure and business and attract visitors to the multi-billion dollar EXPO 2020 World’s Fair. The Dubai air show is one of the first major aviation trade fairs to be held since the start of the pandemic.
The runway outside the exhibition hall showcased the latest innovations in commercial aviation as well as the global arms trade, and the constant push by companies to sell their hardware.
Boeing has brought its new 777-9 passenger jet from Seattle on the longest flight yet for a 777X, as it undergoes continuous testing and awaits regulatory approval. Boeing says the plane will be the largest and most efficient twin-engine jet aircraft in the world. Emirates, the Middle East’s largest airline, has ordered 126 777Xs, but the Dubai-based airline has expressed frustration with the delay in delivery, which is not expected before late 2023.
Boeing still faces scrutiny over its 737 Max planes, which were grounded globally until recently after two crashes that killed nearly 350 people. Boeing was forced to make changes to flight software that played a role in the crashes, paid an undisclosed amount to airlines affected by grounding the plane, and settled dozens of lawsuits brought by families of passengers who died in the crash.
Airbus ferries reporters via the A320neo, which has been converted into a luxury corporate jet filled with a large bed, walk-in shower and sprawling seating area with sofas and coffee tables.
China’s state-owned defense company CATIC displayed a batch of anti-aircraft missiles, ammunition and combat aircraft. It will also display the Russian Sukhoi Su-75 Checkmate fighter plane, which will be shown to the public later on Sunday. The aircraft is a lower-cost competitor to the US F-35, which the UAE has been trying to acquire since formal recognition of Israel last year in a deal brokered by the Trump administration. This sale has slowed under President Joe Biden.
An Emirati pilot inspecting an American-made Chinook CH-47 aircraft indicated that the transport helicopter was supporting the Emirati forces in recent missions in Yemen and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Israeli companies displayed their devices for the first time at the air show after Israel normalized diplomatic relations with the UAE last year. The state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries displayed a range of marine, manned and unmanned drones.
Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems showcased its “UAV Dome” that detects and destroys drones using a laser. Emirati defense officials were seen asking about the range and weight of the Israeli wing’s anti-drone system. In all, six Israeli companies participate in the air show.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz described the partnership between the UAE and Israel as a “strategic asset,” saying in a statement that the Defense Ministry’s participation “reflects the deepening of relations” between the two countries. The two countries share deep concerns about Iran, which is set to resume negotiations on the shattered nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers.
The air show is held near Dubai’s Al Maktoum Airport, the second and smallest international hub for Dubai’s main airport, the world’s busiest for international travel.
With vaccine launches underway in many countries around the world, the airline industry as a whole is recovering from a net loss of $138 billion last year.
However, the industry as a whole is still facing losses this year and next. The International Air Transport Association projects a net loss of $11.6 billion for airlines in 2022, and about $52 billion in losses this year.
Although commercial travel remains uncertain amid rising infections in some countries, cargo volumes are already well above pre-pandemic levels. Some airlines have removed seats on suspended passenger flights and converted their planes into cargo planes.
This year, more than 100 American companies are participating in the air show.
“We are committed to deepening and strengthening this vital strategic relationship,” said Shaun Murphy, Chargé d’Affairs at the US Embassy, thanking the UAE for its assistance with US-led evacuations out of Afghanistan. The US State Department last week helped facilitate the evacuation of nearly 190 Afghans to Abu Dhabi, including US-trained Afghan pilots, who fled to Uzbekistan after the Taliban took over the country in August.
Associated Press writer Joseph Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
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