Timeframe: When Dubai Airshow was launched 35 years ago

In January 1989, Arab Air was rebranded as Dubai Airshow with all the pomp the biennial exhibition is known for today

Al Fursan aerobatics team of the United Arab Emirates during a display at Dubai Airshow 2021 at Dubai World Central. EPA
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In the years before Dubai’s calendar was spangled with several monumental annual events in the realms of sports, culture and retail, there was one event that stood out as the emirate’s flagship attraction: Dubai Airshow.

The event has a special place in the memory of those who grew up in the emirate or spent time here in the 1990s and early 2000s. Families would flock to the best vantage points in the city to catch a glimpse of the aerobatic displays and the fighter jets that zoomed across the sky with smoke dyed in the colours of the UAE flag. Even to those who had little or no interest in the business aspect of the trade event, the Dubai Airshow was a spectacle.

The foundations of Dubai Airshow are modest. The event began in 1986 as Arab Air, a small civil aviation trade show at Dubai World Trade Centre. It was not until three years later, in January 1989, that the event rebranded as Dubai Airshow and was launched with the flair that it is still known for today. The event relocated to Dubai Airport and hosted 200 exhibitors and 25 aircraft that were seen as cutting edge at the time.

The biennial exhibition did not keep its January date for long. By the following iteration in 1991, the event was moved to November as a result of the Gulf War. Its focus that year was on military aircraft.

For more than three decades since then, Dubai Airshow has been the barometer of the aviation industry. It has been a springboard for multibillion-dollar deals for new planes and training centres. Its impressive exhibition of aeroplanes has been as much about commercial offerings as it has been a presentation of military might. On the other hand, its aerobatic displays, such as by Al Fursan, or the Knights, of the UAE's Air Force continues to captivate the city’s everyday population.

The event returned in 2023 with a vigour that represented the aviation industry’s return to form after the challenges brought on by the pandemic. More than 115,000 people attended the spectacle, which took place between November 13 and 17 at DWC airport, its new home. The event hosted more than 1,400 exhibitors, a whopping growth when compared with the 200 that attended in its inaugural year.

The gears are already turning for the next edition of Dubai Airshow, which will take place between November 17 and 21, 2025. The event is expected to return to its purpose-built site at DWC.

Updated: January 19, 2024, 6:01 PM