TIM ROBINSON reports on Day 1 highlights from this year’s Dubai Air Show on 13-17 November
To Dubai, and once again for air show visitors it is a chance to spot ‘what’s changed’ as the skyscrapers continue to shoot up and change the skyline of the city. This year, while the breakneck construction has slowed – a new vision since the last show in 2009 is the impressive Burj Khalifa - the world’s tallest building.
So as the Burj Khalifa looks to the sky, will the air show soar too? Lets take a look from the first days highlights.
Boeing lands record 777 order
The show kicked off in style for Boeing on the first day with a huge $18bn order for 50 Boeing 777-300ERs from home airline Emirates (along with options for a further 20 which could take the total value to $26bn). This, the biggest dollar value single commercial order in Boeing’s history, adds to the 95 already in service with the carrier and is on top of 40 it is waiting for. Emirates then, are determined to keep the throttle wide open on their ambitious expansion plans, despite recent concerns over stalled growth and contagion. Deliveries of these aircraft will begin in 2015.
That is not all either. Emirates and Boeing are also reported to be in discussions about a possible ‘777X’ – which would see a new wing and new engines incorporated into the ‘triple seven’ in an end-of decade revamp.
Rafale – jilted at the altar for another fighter?
A big shock at the show for French fighter manufacturer Dassault as the UAE issued a RFP (request for proposals) last week to a European fighter manufacturer. Unfortunately for Paris, this turned out to be Eurofighter Typhoon – a blow for Rafale at this stage of the game. Dassault had been thought to be in the final stages of negotiations with the UAE AF for a 60-aircraft order for the fighter. Indeed, some were predicting that the announcement would be made at the show. Now it seems we have a possible two-horse race and potentially more if the contest is widened further to the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet or F-15 Silent Eagle.
So what gives? Firstly the UAE AF has now seen up close the capabilities of the Typhoon after it flew in a coalition with RAF Typhoons in Operating Unified Protector over Libya. Feedback from UAE pilots involved in this air campaign – especially when this air force is so small – perhaps might have convinced planners to give Typhoon another chance.
However another view is that this could be a tough bargaining tactic to get the French to lower their prices after the UAE decided that the Rafale is too pricy.
Yet the fighter already needs an export order desperately and the worry for Paris if that Rafale loses in India and now here, it may exit the fighter business altogether.
A Eurofighter triumph here in the desert would also bring back unpleasant memories of Morocco – which previously which also saw defeat snatched from the jaws of victory by Rafale…
787 touches down – Boeing pushes Max
Making its Dubai air show debut was Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, which touched down at the show on Saturday. As well as the 787, Boeing is hoping that it can repeat Airbus’s neo sales success, with the 737MAX, a model of which is now prominent on the stand.
JF-17 – three for the price of one
These days, we all like a bargain, and none more than the Pakistan Air Force – which, with its JF-17 lightweight fighter (a joint venture with China) says that the aircraft is one third the price of comparable fighters. The JF-17, which is appearing at the show is now in service with two squadrons of the PAF, where it has exceeded expectations. A Block II version will see improvements in weapons, avionics and AAR refuelling probe and a two seat version. Meanwhile Chinese partner AVIC says that at least five countries have shown in the fighter and it hopes to sell 300-500 aircraft in the next ten years.
Maximus Air Cargo rebrands and gets new livery
UAE- based cargo airline Maximus Air Cargo has rebranded as Maximus Air, and has also commissioned a new livery from Happy Design Studio, which is quickly notching up a reputation as the go-to aircraft scheme experts. The Maximus scheme, seen above on a poster, was inspired by the Space Shuttle and its iconic thermal tiles.
Quest Helicopters launches innovative UAE helicopter
Ever wonder why the Chinook is still going strong – some 50 years later? Ever perhaps wonder why no civil helicopters have adopted this tandem rotor configuration? Well that has changed with the launch of the Quest Helicopters AVQ – a mini-Chinook style helicopter that also incorporates fly-by-wire, sidestick controller and a rocket boosted detachable cabin ‘pod’ that allows pilots and passengers to escape a catastrophic failure via parachute. It is also to be manufactured in the UAE in Umm Al Quwain – with production expected to commence in 2014.
The venture is financed by Quest Investments who have put $50m into the first phase of the project. Meanwhile the helicopter itself is the brainchild of Ukrainian designer Voldomyr Udovenko.
The helicopter will be powered by two AI-450 Motorsich turbines with FADEC – although the presence of Rolls-Royce at the press briefing was a strong hint that other engines may be considered in the future.
Quest also confirm that two suppliers are in the running for the provision of the FBW system and also for a real-time HUMS (Health Usage Monitoring System) downlink, that would capture data from sensors all over the helicopter to be sent back for analysis.
Perhaps the most innovative technology of all is the ‘escape pod cabin’. Though this idea is not new (the F-111 famously had it) it is the first time this has been applied to a helicopter. The system would see the front cabin detach, and fall to earth under twin parachutes. Quest says that in its original form, the minimum escape altitude using this would be 300ft. While this idea conjures up the thought of it being aimed at Blofeld-style men with white cats – Quest points out that the ballistic parachute has already saved lives when incorporated into light aircraft like Cirrus. Potential applications would be VIP, EMS, police and utility roles.
The tandem rotor configuration, says Quest, is also scalable – with it eyeing a larger 10-seat version in the future. The demonstrator testbed or prototype is expected to be ready by the middle of 2012, with ground runs leading up to a first flight in 2013. The company envisages building 20 helicopters in the first year of production.
Rolls-Royce gets $500m Saudi order
Rolls-Royce mean while was celebrating with an $500m order for Trent 700 engines for four Airbus A330s already announced and a further. The order also includes the company’s TotalCare service and support package.
Eclipse – the austerity bizjet?
Is your Gulfstream 550 looking a bit brash these days? Anti-capitalism protesters camped out at your FBO? Perhaps you need to trade down slightly with the Eclipse 550 VLJ, which is now set to return to production with new deliveries expected to begin in 2013. Announced in October, the 550 is an upgraded version of the 500, which has been reborn by Eclipse Aerospace after Eclipse Aviation went under. With support from Sikorsky and investment from Turkey’s EA Aerospace, the revamped Eclipse 550 will feature avionics and vision upgrades as well as autothrottles for around $2.7m. Says Ekim Alptekin, Executive VP, EMEA at Eclipse “The Middle East means there is a lot of economic activity within the range of a VLJ” although he notes “I never liked VLJ – we call it a personal jet”, adding “it’s a disruptive technology”. Alptekin predicts that even in the Middle East, thanks to its ability to get into smaller airfields than larger biz jets, it will find its niche among the billionaires and corporate owners seeking a flexible, efficient mode of transport.
UAE company reveals new UAV
A new shape out on the static line was an intriguing tandem-winged UAV, the National 40 from UAE-based Adcom Systems. With a strangely curved fuselage which looks like it is rearing up, the design is powered by a single propeller at the rear. It also has an internal bay for Namrod mini munitions.
One display impossible to miss in the halls is this distinctive Piaggio P.180 Avanti turboprop – turned into an aeronautical work of art by artist Mimmo Paladino. The aircraft is on Abu-Dhabi’s Mubadala Development stand which has a 31.5 per cent stake in Piaggio Aero Industries.
UAE looks to space
After becoming a major aviation hub, the UAE is also branching out into spaceflight with Emirates Institution for Advanced Science & Technology (EIAST) which has teamed up with South Korea to develop commerical imagery satellites. Already one, DubaiSat-1 has been put into orbit and a second, DubaiSat-2, with a 1m resolution is set to be launched in before the end of 2012 by a Russian Dnepr rocket. As well as developing expertise in satellites, (EIAST did 30% of design work in DubaiSat-1, this is now 50% in DubaiSat-2) the imagery collected of natural disasters or humanitariancrises around the world has helped raise the UAE’s profile and information sharing goals among other space nations. For the UAE imagery is also useful in monitoring pollution or potential oil spills in the Gulf which could affect it or its neighbours.
V-22 – now looking for exports
With successful deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya (where it was involved in a combat search and rescue (CSAR) op to recover downed F-15E pilots, the Bell/Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor is now gunning for potential export orders – and an example is making its first Dubai Air Show appearance.
At the show, Bell and Boeing were highlighting its unique versatility and efficiency in a number of missions. They pointed out, for example (despite the high cost of the Osprey) 50 V-22s are replacing 100 helicopters and fixed wing aircraft in USAF service. Production rates are also ramping up with a full rate in 2013 producing some 40 aircraft a year.
With that, the Osprey is being promoted now for the Middle East market, with a slide during the press briefing showing a number of potential applications such as air or ground refuelling, Medvac, and interestingly ISR, or C&C platform. For the Middle East region, Bell think that potential Osprey customers will particularly want the V-22 for VIP transport, long-range SAR and special operations missions.
Interestingly it is not all about dropping off special forces, or rescuing pilots under fire. V-22s were also deployed to Haiti in January 2010, where its ability to cover a lot of distance and not need runways, to deliver urgent relief after the devastating earthquake was extremely welcome.
The UK may have dropped the F-35B JSF – but you can still get your hands on the type with this nifty 1:48 desk model spotted at the show. No word on whether you have to retire the rest of your aircraft model collection to pay for it…
To follow all the news at Dubai don’t forget to bookmark media.aerosociety.com. For those on Twitter the hashtag is #DXB11 and the Editor Tim Robinson will be tweeting live from the show on @RAeSTimR