The Dubai Airshow proved just how important the Middle East is for aviation

  • Both Airbus and Boeing see the Middle East as increasingly important when it comes to commercial aviation. This week’s Dubai Airshow demonstrated that clearly.
  • Both plane-makers received orders worth billions, and a show of confidence in their products despite a recent slowdown in the region. Airlines made purchases on a scale more commonly associated with larger shows.
  • Dubai, already a huge aviation hub, wants to grow even larger. The wider region is in a good position to connect more of the world.
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This week’s Dubai Airshow was a chance for the aviation industry to seal deals and show off their new technology.

It was always as clear a statement as you could ask for of how important the Middle East is to the world’s biggest plane makers.

The Dubai Airshow isn’t quite as big as its Paris equivalent, which typically sets the agenda for the industry. But the biggest deals struck in the desert this week compete with those made in the French capital, showing a continued shift away from the traditional centers of power.

Money talks — and in Dubai there’s plenty

Orders by Dubai-based airline Emirates for Boeing and Airbus planes reached around $25 billion. That figure, from a single carrier, is only around $10 billion less than the total orders Boeing and Airbus both secured in Paris in June.

The order shows the size and dominance of the airline, which is the world’s largest international carrier and serves more than 150 airports.

Boeing thinks that the market for commercial planes and aviation services in the Middle East will be more than $1.5 trillion over the next 20 years, and sees at is one of the fastest-growing markets on earth.

Dubai Air Show

An Etihad plane at the 2019 Dubai Airshow.
Sinéad Baker

It has noted in the past a point which may seem obvious, but is only getting more important: the Middle East is in the middle of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and therefore a natural hub.

Demand for years to come

According to its figures, 85% of people on earth live within an eight-hour flight of the Middle East. That same boundary will produce 70% of the world’s economic growth over the next two decades, the company believes.

Demand in the Middle East is expected to be 3,130 new planes — a total dealbook worth as much as $725 billion  — over the next 20 years.

Airbus predicts that the number of Middle Eastern passengers will increase at a faster rate than the rest of the world of the next 20 years — by  5.6% per year, compared to 4.3% per year.

Dubai International Airport

Dubai International Airport.
Getty Images

Airbus also noted the increased numbers of tourists to the UAE, and predicted that by 2040 the Middle East will contain 11 “Aviation Mega Cities,” up for its current number of five.

At this week’s show, Boeing signed agreements to give services, like technical support, to countries and groups in the region like Saudi National Center of Aviation, Etihad Airways, and Kuwait.

Dubai Airshow

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, CEO and chairman of the Emirates Group and Guillaume Faury, Chief Executive Officer for Airbus shake hands at the 2019 Airshow.
REUTERS/ Mahmoud Khaled

Airbus also announced that it is “reinforcing its Dubai-based customers services teams for commercial aircraft, gathering them all under one roof” — a sign of how significant it sees the city.

This year, the event was especially important for Boeing, with multiple orders for its beleaguered 737 Max jet ending a worrying dry period since the plane’s second crash.

New orders also meant the show was a big success for Airbus’ newest plane, the A321XLR, which was first announced in Paris earlier this year.

Many of the deals struck in Dubai showed Airbus and Boeing getting orders from new markets that are looking to increase their aviation footprint, like Ghana.

The Middle East’s aviation industry has stumbled in recent years, thanks to volatile oil prices and blowback form the US-China trade war.

Wobbles included a delay to the expansion of the Al Maktoum International Airport, which hopes to be the biggest in the world.

Dubai Air Show

A model of the Mohammad bin Rashid Aerospace Hub.
Sinéad Baker

But the show saw billions of deals go ahead, despite industry speculation that few finalized purchases would be announced.

As well as establishing momentum for the present, the show also looked to the future.

Displays like a mockup of the Mohammad bin Rashid Aerospace Hub — a planned multi-million dollar hub for the industry — were a snapshot of how Middle Eastern aviation could look should the heady predictions come to pass.

It is incontestable that the Middle East is growing as an aviation center, and dragging more interest its way. The Airshow demonstrated that this growth could yet be faster than we expect.