Emirates opens Dubai Air Show with £42bn aircraft purchase from Boeing

14 November 2023, 12:04

Emirates plane
Emirates launches Stansted to Dubai route. Picture: PA

Emirates chief executive and chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum made the announcement at the Dubai Air Show.

Long-haul carrier Emirates has opened the Dubai Air Show with a 52 billion dollar (£42 billion) purchase of Boeing 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 order of 30 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, the first wide-body aircraft in its fleet.

The sales marked a significant win for US-based Boeing 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 Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, at a news conference on Monday afternoon.

Dubai Air Show
Boeing vice president Stan Deal, Emirates boss Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum and General Electric chief Lawrence Culp Jr sign the deal, watched by Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum (Lujain Jo/AP)

Emirates chief executive and chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum said the deal would see the carrier purchase 90 Boeing 777 aircraft, 55 of the 777-9 variants and 35 777-8s.

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 centre of Emirates’ strategy to connect cities on all continents non-stop to Dubai.”

Stan Deal, an executive vice president at Boeing, praised the deal, saying: “All these products point to the future of Emirates.”

Emirates officials stressed that FlyDubai’s order was separate from the long-haul carrier. The parties did not offer a cash value for the deal but it represents a major change for FlyDubai, which to this point has only flown Boeing 737 single-aisle aircraft on shorter distances.

The air show this year comes amid the Israel-Hamas war, as well as Russia’s war on Ukraine, which is likely to 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 Defence Systems 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 on Monday morning as people poured into the show. A stand for Rafael handed out coffee, though there were no sales staff.

Dubai Air Show
Emiratis walk past the empty stand of Israel Aerospace Industries (Jon Gambrell/AP)

Rafael also sponsored a meeting of air force commanders on 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 is likely to have staff on hand for the air show after appearing at the Abu Dhabi arms fair earlier this year despite being sanctioned by the US and others over Moscow’s attack on Ukraine. Roscosmos, the Russian state space company, is also at the show.

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 space 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 with a year earlier, IATA says.

Emirates, a main economic engine for Dubai amid its booming property market, announced record half-year profits of 2.7 billion dollars (£2.3 billion) on Thursday. That is up from 1.2 billion dollars (£1 billion) for the same period last year, potentially putting the airline on track for another record-breaking year.

The airline says it has repaid 2.5 billion dollars (£2.1 billion) of the loans it received during the height of the pandemic to stay afloat.

Tim Clark, president of Emirates, told Bloomberg in September to “watch this space” for purchases from Airbus and Boeing during the air show. The airline is hiring new pilots and crew, likely to staff new aircraft.

“We’ve got a lot of big plans for the airline going forward,” Mr Clark said. “New fleet, larger numbers, larger network.”

By Press Association

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