Emirates has opened the Dubai Airshow with a £42bn purchase of Boeing aircraft, showing how aviation has bounced back after the groundings of the coronavirus pandemic, even as Israel’s war with Hamas clouds regional security.
The long-haul carrier’s chief executive and chair, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, announced the deal for 90 Boeing 777 aircraft – including 55 of the 777-9 variants and 35 777-8s – and a five Boeing 787 Dreamliners to add to the previous order.
“This is a long-term commitment that supports hundreds of thousands of jobs, not only at Boeing but also throughout the global aviation supply chain,” he said. “The 777 is at the centre of Emirates’ strategy to connect cities on all continents non-stop to Dubai.”
Its low-cost sister airline, FlyDubai, also unveiled a separate purchase of 30 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, the first wide-body aircraft in its fleet. The parties did not offer a cash value for that deal, but it represents a major change for FlyDubai, which to this point has only flown Boeing 737 single-aisle aircraft on shorter distances.
The air show this year comes amid the Israel-Hamas war, as well as Russia’s war on Ukraine, which is likely to influence the five-day show at Al Maktoum Airport at Dubai World Central. It is the city-state’s second airfield after Dubai International Airport, which is the world’s busiest for international travel and the home base for Emirates.
While commercial aviation takes much of the attention, arms manufacturers also have exhibitions at the show. Two major Israeli firms, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries, had been slated to participate.
But the IAI stand, bearing the slogan “Where Courage Meets Technology”, was roped off and empty on Monday as people poured into the show. A stand for Rafael handed out coffee, though there were no sales staff.
Rafael also sponsored a meeting of air force commanders on Sunday at a luxury Dubai hotel, highlighting the balancing act being struck by the UAE amid anger in the Arab world over the Israel-Hamas war.
The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, established diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020.
Global aviation is booming after the coronavirus pandemic saw worldwide lockdowns and aircraft grounded – particularly at Al Maktoum Airport, which served for months as a parking space for Emirates’ double-decker Airbus 380s.
Air traffic is now at 97 per cent of pre-Covid levels, according to the International Air Transport Association. Middle Eastern airlines, which supply key East-West routes for global travel, saw a 26.6 per cent increase in September traffic compared with a year earlier, IATA says.
Emirates, a main economic engine for Dubai amid its booming property market, announced record half-year profits of £2.3bn on Thursday. That is up from £1bn for the same period last year, potentially putting the airline on track for another record-breaking year. The airline says it has repaid £2.1bn of the loans it received during the height of the pandemic to stay afloat.
Tim Clark, president of Emirates, told Bloomberg in September to “watch this space” for purchases from Airbus and Boeing during the air show. The airline is hiring new pilots and crew, likely to staff new aircraft.
“We’ve got a lot of big plans for the airline going forward,” Mr Clark said. “New fleet, larger numbers, larger network.”