Airshows are nothing if not spectacular; the sight of planes old and new soaring through the skies is a proven draw for crowds the world over. Although Dubai Airshow, which ends on Friday, has earned its place among the world’s top-tier aviation events, it is about much more than just aircraft.
Of course, the show was a natural backdrop to multibillion-dollar deals for new planes and training centres – Emirates, the world's biggest long-haul airline, placed an order for 95 additional Boeing 777X jets and Boeing 787 Dreamliners valued at $52 billion. It was also the scene for important announcements about investment in aviation – such as the launch of a Dh700 million ($190.5 million) programme to further modernise the UAE’s air navigation services over the next decade. However, a closer look at the airshow and what has been an important year for aviation in the UAE generally offers us a glimpse into the future of other sectors that will play a major role in our lives.
Aviation does not exist in a vacuum – it is an intrinsic part of the global economy and is the glue that binds strategic industries such as logistics, cargo and tourism. It is also on the cutting edge of engineering, technology and digitisation. It was this final sector that was on show with Emirates’ display of its coming biometric facial recognition system that promises to cut waiting times and queues for passengers. In a world where the shift to a cashless, paperless society seems set to continue, this was an important glimpse at what the future of travel may look like.
Sustainability is a key factor in all major industries these days, and aviation is no exception. That industry leaders used Dubai Airshow as a platform to explore ideas and innovations to reach their goals of net-zero emissions by 2050 points to the event’s importance. But elsewhere in UAE aviation, steps towards a greener future have already been taken, such as at Abu Dhabi International Airport’s recently opened new terminal building, which will reduce water consumption by 45 per cent and which includes more than 7,500 solar panels to power a three megawatt plant, saving an estimated 5,300 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
Aviation is not confined to jetliners and international travel. Dubai is notable for its interest in different forms of urban transport – including aerial city travel. The Integrity, a zero-emission electric air taxi produced by Spanish company Crisalion, and which can carry six passengers, was unveiled at the Dubai Airshow. It is due to undergo tests in Dubai next year as part of the city’s continuing efforts to break new ground on urban transportation.
Overall, this year’s Dubai Airshow demonstrates that aviation is to continue flourishing, not just in the UAE but in the wider GCC, which remains an important and strategic region. Passenger numbers are set to increase, new airlines – such as Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh Air – are being founded, and existing carriers are expanding their fleets and routes. Etihad, the UAE’s national airline, is a striking example of this ambition; it aims to triple the number of passengers carried to 33 million, double its fleet to 150 planes and increase its available seat kilometres – a measure of an airline's seats multiplied by kilometres flown – by about 30 per cent annually over the next seven years, its chief executive Antonoaldo Neves told The National earlier this month.
Other developments, such as the planned introduction of a pan-GCC visit visa, will further break down barriers to trade and travel. Dubai International Airport already expects to hit the 90 million-passenger mark for the first time in 2025 and with its new terminal, Abu Dhabi International Airport – soon to be renamed Zayed International Airport – will double current capacity to be able to handle up to 45 million passengers a year. This will enhance the UAE’s connectivity to the region and the wider world.
This is not expansion for the sake of it – growth in aviation and its supporting infrastructure is an investment for now and the future. Aside from creating jobs, aviation adds 14 per cent to UAE’s gross domestic product, according to the General Civil Aviation Authority – this is important revenue to be used in other areas. As President Sheikh Mohamed noted on Wednesday: “The aviation sector represents one of the most important vital fields that stimulate and support the growth of many sectors related to this industry.”
Aviation executives are also aware of their companies’ role in the UAE’s wider development. Discussing Emirates’ major purchase of new jets, the airline’s chairman and chief executive, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed, said on Tuesday that the orders “represent a significant investment that reflects Dubai's commitment to the future of aviation. It also supports the D33, Dubai's economic agenda”.
Dubai Airshow is a reliable gauge for where the industry is going, but what it really shows is how the future is shaping up for all of us.