The seventeenth edition of the Dubai Airshow has just raised its curtain with a focus on the future of the aerospace industry, the show's motto. For the first time in almost two years, the top brass of the air forces of numerous countries and the leading executives of the aerospace and defence industry have been meeting there to share projects, showcase innovations, cutting-edge technologies and sustainable fuel solutions to give new impetus to the global economy.
And, of course, they meet to close contracts. On the opening day of the show, General Ishaq Saleh al-Balushi, head of the event's Organising Committee, announced the signing of five major deals worth a total of €1.247 billion. The first to be signed on the morning of 14 November involved the Emirates Air Force and Airbus Defence and Space España.
The purchase amounts to 587 million euros and involves the acquisition by Emirates of two A330-300 aircraft in an air-to-air refuelling and multi-role transport configuration. Better known as MRTT - an acronym for MultiRole Tanker Transport - the pair of aircraft will be converted to the "tanker" version at the Airbus factory in Getafe (Madrid). The contract includes the upgrade of the three A330-300 MRTTs that Emirates already has in service which, with the two new ones to be delivered from 2024, will bring the total number of A330-300 MRTTs in the hands of the Gulf Air Force to five.
Shortly before the announcement, the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohamed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, had inaugurated the 17th edition of the Dubai Airshow, one of the five most important air shows in the world and undoubtedly the largest in the Middle East, which will run until 18 November. The Boeing 777X, still under development, the North American aircraft designed to compete with the European Airbus A350, will make its debut there. Other firsts include the Italian Leonardo Group's AW609 tilt-rotor aircraft and the new version of China's L-15 advanced trainer, along with 160 of the world's most advanced aircraft, helicopters and drones.
With expectations pinned on the near end of pandemic restrictions from spring 2020, the 2021 edition of the Dubai Airshow brings together companies from 148 countries, totalling more than 1,300 exhibitors, 370 of which are new to Dubai. The event is expected to attract 140 official delegations and more than 85,000 visitors, who will enjoy the daily aerial displays of Al-Fursan, the UAE Air Force's aerobatic patrol, as well as those from Saudi Arabia, India and Russia
A year after signing the Abraham Accords and normalising diplomatic relations, Israel is participating in the Dubai Airshow for the first time. Its defence ministry has organised a national pavilion with only seven companies exhibiting, most of them state-owned.
On display are mock-ups of missiles, radars, satellites, air defence systems, cyber technology and drones, as well as equipment for detecting, neutralising and shooting down these unmanned aerial vehicles. A delegation led by the head of its air force, General Amikam Norkin, accompanied by General Yair Kulas, director of the weapons systems export department, also came to Dubai.
Russia has come to the Dubai fair to showcase its main innovations in the fields of combat and transport aviation, air defence and electronic warfare, as well as in the field of commercial aviation. Moscow wants to strengthen cooperation ties with the countries of the Middle East and Asia, and to this end it has brought the best of its aircraft, weapons systems and airport infrastructure equipment to the Emirates show.
For the first time outside Russia, the new fifth-generation Sukhoi Su-75 Checkmate single-engine fighter, which is set to become the star of the Dubai Airshow 2021. Officially unveiled last July at the MAKS show in Moscow, it is a fighter derived from the twin-engine Su-57, of which various prototypes and versions are being built.
To make it attractive for export, the Kremlin is offering it to third countries to become partners in the programme and thus complete its development. But seeing the Su-75 Checkmate live will not be easy, even for professional visitors to the Dubai Airshow.
The aircraft is enclosed in a covered, restricted-access pavilion, to which an exclusive invitation is required to enter. These invitations have been received by high-ranking officials from potential customers of the aircraft, to whom the main features of the new fighter aircraft are shown and explained behind closed doors. The specialised media can also be given a guided tour.
Equipped with stealth technology that makes it invisible to radar, armed with up to 7 tonnes of air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, the Russian manufacturer claims that the Su-75 can fly at Mach 1.8 - 1.8 times the speed of sound - and that its operational range is in the order of 3,000 kilometres. For the time being, this is only a forecast, as the first Checkmate will not take off until 2023, while its entry into series production is not envisaged until 2026.
The Dubai show is the largest aerospace trade fair to take place globally since spring 2020, when the expansion of COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the major European and American shows in 2020 and 2021: the UK's Farnborough in London, scheduled for July 2020; France's Le Bourget in Paris, scheduled for June this year; and Chile's FIDAE Chile in Santiago, which could not be held in April 2020. Fortunately, all of these have now been rescheduled for 2022 or 2023.
To attract as many exhibitors as possible, the organisers of Dubai Airshow 21 have created a forum called Tech Xplore, which brings together startup managers, innovators, entrepreneurs and opinion leaders. In different sessions they will discuss and exchange views on the technological future of the aviation industry based on 5G communications, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and industrial automation.
Visitors do not need to bring a negative PCR document or a full vaccination test to gain access to the exhibition grounds. However, they must wear a face mask and follow social distancing protocols. Non-professional public - adults and children - are allowed free entry each day to watch the aerial displays in flight, but seating is limited to the capacity of the grandstand set up for this purpose.