Dubai 2021 To Gauge Industry Appetite For Air Shows

Credit: Mark Wagner/Aviation Images

DUBAI—Dubai Airshow 2021, to open on Sunday at 10 a.m. local time, will at least be remembered as the first of the four major global shows to return after the worst period of the COVID-19 crisis.

Singapore Airshow did take place in February 2020, but was badly impacted by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus that saw a number of exhibitors cancel at the last minute. Then, the Farnborough and Paris shows were called off in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

The burning question now is whether the industry is willing to participate in air shows in the way it used to. When Paris was dropped, major players suggested they had already learned to live without large gatherings. They appeared to be looking for a new, less expensive format.

But positive signs for the show organizers are emerging here on the eve of Dubai. The number of exhibitors, to be confirmed, is not expected to be down from the 2019 edition’s almost 1,300. A look at the static display hints the number of aircraft in 2019, close to 160, is to be surpassed.

What about visitors? On the one hand, the Aviation Week Network has been consistently hearing of every level of employees wanting to return to an in-person show. On the other hand, strict restrictions here may force attendance down. Every stand has been allocated a maximum capacity, and “a minimum 2-m social distancing guideline will be monitored and respected at all times,” organizers say.

Among the positive signs is the trust large OEMs have put into the show to convey their messages. Boeing is here with an in-development aircraft, the 777X, and one aircraft flying as a proof-of-concept for green ideas, the ecoDemonstrator. The latter is making its first appearance at an international air show.

Airbus has chosen Dubai to showcase new concepts for cabin interiors, including new hygiene features. For the Toulouse-based airframer, the show may have a bittersweet taste. In 2005, it was the first time the A380 was being displayed with the livery of its main customer, Emirates. This year, the show is happening as the last example of that type is about to be delivered to the same carrier, in December, after the premature end of the double-decker’s production run.

Becoming environmentally friendlier has been a priority topic in recent industry discussions and the presence of sustainability here will be elevated compared to previous years. In sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), it seems something significant is happening every week. “To achieve sustainable aviation ramping up, the production of SAF is the key,” the European Commission’s Director General for Mobility and Transport Henrik Hololei said just days ago in Doha.

Also this week, the UAE was designated host of the COP28 conference on climate change in 2023—also the year of the next Dubai Airshow. This year’s exhibition will help the country highlight its influence on the international stage, as it prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its foundation in December.

In defense, exhibitors may see their activity benefit from growing military spending in Asia-Pacific, although budgets are stable globally.

In a few days, the organizers of the other three major global air shows will have a clearer idea on the viabilities of their business models.

Thierry Dubois

Thierry Dubois has specialized in aerospace journalism since 1997. An engineer in fluid dynamics from Toulouse-based Enseeiht, he covers the French commercial aviation, defense and space industries. His expertise extends to all things technology in Europe. Thierry is also the editor-in-chief of Aviation Week’s ShowNews.