Unfulfilled speculation at Paris Air Show

Predicted orders by Qatar Airways and Gulf Air failed to materialise.


Written by Robeel Haq, senior group editor of Aviation Business magazine

Marketed as the aviation industry’s biggest international event of the year, an estimated 150,000 trade visitors made the journey to Le Bourget airport last month for the much-awaited Paris Air Show 2011. Lucrative deals were signed, impressive aircraft were displayed, and thousands of calories were annihilated by each person that had to walk around the large-scale venue, me included.

There had been rumours that Middle East carriers would be placing their stamp on the exhibition by announcing a raft of multi-billion dollar orders. However, the bulk of major purchases were actually made by Asian airlines such as AirAsia, IndiGo, Malaysian Airlines and Korean Air, much to the delight of aircraft manufacturers. But what happened to those from the Arab world?

It’s hard to say. Apparently the purse strings of cash-rich Emirates Airlines were not opened because announcements are being saved for the forthcoming Dubai Airshow in November 2011, which is understandable. In a similar vein, there was hearsay that Gulf Air would be inking a deal for regional jets with either Bombardier, Airbus or Embraer, but continued negotiations may have caused a delay. As you’ll read in our exclusive interview with the Bahrain airline’s CEO Samer Majali in the latest issue of Aviation Business magazine, it seems likely that the order will be revealed at Bahrain Air Show in January 2012 instead.

Following this double-whammy from Emirates and Gulf Air, it was actually Qatar Airways that ended the drought. On the first day of Paris Air Show itself, the national carrier held a press conference to unveil its latest Boeing 777 order. Consisting of six aircraft – with a list price value of US$1.7 billion – the deal was signed by Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, who also presented a jewel encrusted glass replica of the carrier’s logo to Boeing executive Jim Albaugh. In return, Albaugh also presented his Arab customer with a large colourful plate.

As Al Baker compared the two gifts, he remarked dryly: “it is obvious which of our two countries is the most affluent,” which was met with a stunned silence from the stage and a ripple of laughter from the press core. And despite much speculation that he would follow-up the Boeing order with deals for the Airbus A320neo and A380 superjumbo, as well as the Bombardier CSeries, Al Baker opted to defer for now, although the interest is very much still there.

Other announcements from Middle East companies at Paris Air Show – which are detailed further in our post-event coverage this issue – included a firm order for four additional Airbus A330-300s by Saudi Arabian Airlines, plus the purchase of 30 Airbus A320neos and six more A350-900 XWB aircraft by Kuwait-based Aviation Lease and Finance Company (ALAFCO), the latter of which could be leased to Thai Airways from 2017. Engine deals were also signed by Gulf Air, Jazeera Airways and Flydubai, ending a week of frantic activity that has boosted the global aviation industry’s morale by leaps and bounds.

Looking ahead, our attention has shifted to the forthcoming Dubai Air Show, with interest being drummed up at organiser F&E Aerospace’s Paris Air Show chalet. With more than 55,000 trade visitors expected and up to 1000 exhibitors, this is expected to be the biggest edition of the show ever, with a focus on the rapid growth of UAE aviation over the past four decades. Of course, the team from Aviation Business will be there in full force, and don’t forget, we will be hosting the prestigious Aviation Business Awards on Monday 14th November at the five-star Emirates Towers hotel to coincide with the air show. Nominations are now open on our website, so if your company is due official recognition for its achievements over the past year, get in touch!


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