By Jon Gambrell
Long-haul carrier Emirates opened the Dubai Air Show with a $52 billion purchase of Boeing Co. aircraft, showing how aviation has bounced back after the groundings of the coronavirus pandemic, even as Israel's war with Hamas clouds regional security.
Its low-cost sister airline, FlyDubai, followed up with an $11 billion order of 30 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, the first wide-body aircraft in its fleet. Both sales together marked a significant win for the Virginia-based Boeing Co. out of the gates on the first day of the air show, as airlines appear poised for even more billion-dollar deals this year.
Emirates made the announcement witnessed by the crown prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, at a news conference Monday afternoon. Emirates CEO and Chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum said the deal would see the carrier purchase 90 Boeing 777 aircraft, 55 of them its 777-9 variants and 35 of them 777-8s.
Emirates will also add an additional five aircraft 787 Dreamliners to a previous order of 30 aircraft, Sheikh Saeed said.
“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 center of Emirates' strategy to connect cities on all continents nonstop to Dubai.”
Stan Deal, an executive vice president at Boeing, praised the deal.
“All these products point to the future of Emirates,” Deal said.
Emirates officials stressed that FlyDubai’s order was separate from the long-haul carrier. It represents a major change for FlyDubai, which to this point has only flown Boeing 737 single-aisle aircraft on shorter distances.
Both Deal and Sheikh Saeed left the news conference without taking questions, which represented a departure from previous Dubai Air Shows.
The air show this year comes amid the Israel-Hamas war, as well as Russia’s war on Ukraine, which will likely 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 Defense Systems Ltd. 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 Monday morning as people poured into the show. A stand for Rafael handed out coffee, though there were no salespeople there. A request for comment left with an attendant there was not immediately returned.
Rafael also sponsored a meeting of air force commanders 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.
The firm Russian Helicopters had listed their staff would be on hand for the air show after appearing at the Abu Dhabi arms fair earlier this year despite being sanctioned by the U.S. and others over Moscow's attack on Ukraine. ROSCOSMOS, the Russian state space company, is also at the show.
Meanwhile at the show, an Associated Press journalist saw Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who leads the self-styled Libyan National Army and controls that north African nation's east and south.
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 lot for Emirates double-decker Airbus 380s.
Air traffic is now at 97% 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% increase in September traffic compared to a year earlier, IATA says.
Emirates, a main economic engine for Dubai amid its booming real estate market, announced record half-year profits of $2.7 billion Thursday. That is up from $1.2 billion for the same period last year, potentially putting the airline on track for another record-breaking year. The airline says it has repaid some $2.5 billion of the loans it received during the height of the pandemic to stay afloat.
Also in the market for aircraft is Riyadh Air, a new Saudi carrier being created as part of trillions of dollars worth of spending planned in the kingdom. In March, the airline announced an order of up to 72 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner jetliners and has further plans to expand.
Turkish Airlines may also make a record-shattering purchase of 355 aircraft from Airbus, including 250 A321neo aircraft, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
By Monday afternoon, Boeing Co. announced that SunExpress, an airline jointly owned by Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa, made a commitment to purchase up to 90 single-aisle Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. The deal includes 28 Boeing 737-8s and 17 Boeing 737-10s models, as well as the opportunity for another 45 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. The companies did not offer a dollar figure for the deal.
Associated Press writer Malak Harb contributed to this report.