UAE stages aviation extravaganza, overcoming rivals and regional tension

Emirates buys billions from Boeing while Dubai International Airport expects to exceed pre-pandemic traffic

Dubai’s aviation industry shrugged off new regional rivals and emerging security concerns in the Middle East with more than $50 billion in new aircraft orders from Boeing, a revised – and more upbeat – forecast for traffic through its international airport and murmurs of an IPO for flag carrier Emirates. 

Competition from newcomer Riyadh Air, which Saudi Arabia will put into service in 2025, and knock-on effects to the travel industry of Israel’s war on Hamas were the headlines heading into the the five-day Dubai Airshow now underway at Al Maktoum Airport at Dubai World Central. 

Dubai Airports announced today it is expecting record-breaking numbers to continue into the fourth quarter and 2024 with annual passenger traffic at Dubai International (DXB) to reach 86.8 million – surpassing 2019 traffic.

“We’re thrilled but not entirely surprised that DXB is all set to surpass the pre-pandemic milestone well ahead of our initial projections by almost a year,” Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, said in a statement.

India was DXB’s top country destination in terms of traffic volume with 8.9 million passengers in the first nine months of the year, followed by Saudi Arabia with 4.8 million passengers and the UK with 4.4 million passengers. 

Shares of Boeing popped on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday and have stayed buoyant as government-owned Emirates and sister airline flyDubai secured 125 Boeing wide-body jets at the opening of the airshow, leading a week of mega-deals in commercial and defense aviation that typically sees the biggest agreements inked in the first two days.

Emirates also said it plans to modernize its cabins, signing a $1 billion deal on Tuesday for the newest seats from French manufacturer Safran for every class in its new fleet of Airbus A350, Boeing 777X-9 and existing Boeing 777-300 aircraft.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and CEO of Emirates, said any decision on a potential IPO of the airline remains with the government, speaking in an interview with Arabian Business on Tuesday.

“My answer is always the same – for an Emirates IPO, the government will always make the decision for us,” Sheikh Ahmed said. He welcomed the UAE’s decision to sell stakes in 10 state-owned entities.

On the defense side, Abu Dhabi’s EDGE Group and the Tawazun Council, representing the UAE’s Ministry of Defense, have led the week. EDGE, the government-owned defense conglomerate, showcased a model of a new military testing facility occupying an entire island off the coast of Abu Dhabi. The island has a space to fly drones, a helicopter firing range and a landing beach and urban warfare training village. Established in 2019 to reduce the UAE’s reliance on foreign suppliers, 35% of EDGE’s revenues are now from exports.

Tawazun inked $1.3 billion worth of contracts on Day 1 and another major announcement is expected on Wednesday night, Matthew Cochran, a member of the board of advisors at the Dubai Airshow and CEO of the Defense Services Marketing Council, told The Circuit

Agreements so far have been made with both domestic and international firms, underscoring the UAE’s commitment to bolstering its local defense capabilities. Halcon, a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi-owned EDGE defense conglomerate, landed the largest Emirati deal with a contract to procure ammunition valued at $583 million.

One of the more interesting aircraft on display at the airshow is from BeOnd, a carrier owned by UAE investment firm Arabesque and backed by the Maldivian hotel group SIMDI. The startup, which begins service this week, has its Airbus A319 on the tarmac. Each of the 44 seats onboard are equipped with Apple iPad Pros and wireless headphones and a lay-flat configuration, catering to a growing segment of leisure travelers who prefer business class and do not want to splash the cash to charter a private plane. 

The airline has confirmed four routes based out of the Maldives’ capital, Male, and landing in Dubai, Riyadh, Zurich and Munich. 

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