Aviation is back — a fact on full display at this year's Dubai Airshow. Lining the tarmac of the city's Al Maktoum International Airport are planes, large and small, that showcase the mounting rebound of air travel, as well as the diverse innovation that the sector is driving even after its most difficult period in decades.
Expecting more growth this year, Emirates, Dubai's main passenger carrier, announced its plans to reinstate more than 60 of its A380 double-decker passenger planes by the end of the year, up from its current tally of 47, paving the way for the gradual return of its full fleet of 118 super jumbos. This comes as many other airlines are discontinuing the A380, cementing Emirates' status as one of the world's most important and, arguably, boldest carriers.
Abu Dhabi's Etihad is also announcing similarly confident plans. The airline has said it will consider two new freighter models – the new Airbus A350 and Boeing's proposed 777X – as replacements for older members of its cargo fleet, a branch of aviation that has continued do well even throughout the pandemic.
While it might get less coverage, cargo's prospects are bright. Boeing and Airbus, banking on there being a continued boom in e-commerce, are currently pursuing strategies that prioritise cargo planes, both by building new ones and, more tellingly of where shorter-term growth lies, by converting former passengers planes into freighter ones.
Airports, too, are seeing a rebound. The operator of Dubai's main airport has increased its estimate for annual passenger traffic this year, adding an extra 2 million people. This means that it could potentially reach a footfall of 28.7 million as travel restrictions across the globe start to ease.
Part of this mounting global confidence is not just the prospect of a gradual return to pre-pandemic levels of activity, but also about how innovation can be at the heart of the industry's rebound. The huge potential of technological upgrades will change traditional parts of the sector; perhaps none are as sought after as the development of sustainable, or at least more sustainable flying. Whether it be through cleaner fuels or electric aircraft, the earliest airlines to pioneer greener flights stand to win huge financial gains as consumers become more aware of the environmental cost of traditional aviation. Etihad could be one as it continues to test a new "Greenliner".
Again, innovation is going beyond tradition. Drones are capturing the attention of visitors, and experts at the event are predicting that they will soon become commonplace for fighting fires, delivering medical supplies and industrial surveillance. So often the subject of stories that focus on their negative, even destructive capabilities, exhibits such as those at Dubai Airshow can help reclaim the technology as one with great potential to help, not harm people.
Any visitor to the UAE will see a country welcoming the world to the biggest global events since the start of the pandemic; hotel occupancy is up and more visitors are expected before the end of the year. Dubai Airshow is the first of its kind for aviation in more than two years. There is a sense that, finally, a new normal is about to take off.