AvGeek goodies and cruise missiles: Taking in the sights of the Dubai Airshow
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The Dubai Airshow is typically a quieter stop on the airshow circuit, but this year’s was a momentous one: the first airshow since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Airshows typically offer airline and aviation industry members an opportunity to see the newest products from plane-makers and parts suppliers, as well as the chance to network and get face time while working to close deals. There’s also a whole defense side of the show, with vendors and governments looking at the latest gear — and destructive weapons.
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Dubai doesn’t always make deal headlines on the civil aviation side — the biannual Paris and Farnborough airshows are typically bigger venues for that — but both Airbus and Boeing made some notable sales at this year’s show.
As those deals take place behind the scenes, the exhibit hall, the static aircraft displays, and the flying displays offer the chance to check out airlines, aircraft, and products that attendees may not normally get to see.
Here are a few of the highlights from Dubai 2021.
The Boeing 777X
Boeing’s newest plane made its first major public appearance at the Dubai Airshow.
It was the first time it had left the United States, where four prototypes of the 777X have accumulated over 1,700 hours of flight testing hours, a little less than half the approximately 3,500 flight hours the original 777 and the 787 Dreamliner underwent before receiving FAA certification.
While the plane has been delayed, with targeted first delivery dates slipping from 2020 to late-2023, eight launch customers remain lined up eagerly awaiting the new aircraft.
Boeing plans to make two passenger variants of the 777X. The one flown to Dubai, the 777-9, is the larger one. The planemaker is also developing a freighter version of the wide-body jetliner.
Just shy of 252 feet long, the 777-9 is about 10 feet longer than the 777-300 with a slightly wider cabin.
You can take a closer look at the new plane by reading our full walkthrough of the first prototype 777X in Dubai.
Uganda Air’s first A330neo
One of the best things about air shows is having the chance to see aircraft you’ll never normally see.
At the Dubai Airshow, that included a double-whammy: An A330-800, the worst-selling variant of Airbus’ A330neo line, operated by Uganda Airlines, which until recently was just a regional airline.
The airline only recently began flying the wide-body jet with service to Dubai, but has plans to add London, Mumbai, and Guangzhou, China — all destinations the state-owned airline sees as relevant to Ugandan trade.
Airbus has only sold 15 of the jet to three customers — Kuwait Airways, Air Greenland, and Garuda Indonesia — with the larger -900 variant seeing more demand.
Uganda’s A330-800 features 20 lie-flat business class seats, 28 premium economy seats, and 210 economy seats.
Each seat was fairly comfortable, and Uganda was excited to appear at the airshow (the plane was part of Airbus’ display).
One interesting point is that the airline opted not to build in crew rest compartments. Instead, a section of seats at the back of the coach cabin is blocked off with a retractable curtain for flight attendants to use during their breaks, while two seats at the rear of the business class cabin are similarly blocked.
The exhibit hall
The Dubai Airshow takes place in a corner of Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC), or Dubai World Central, in a venue that was purpose built and is used exclusively once every other year for the show.
The exhibit hall leads out to the aircraft display, and features a wide variety of companies, ranging from universities pitching aviation management degrees, to major planemakers, to startups.
There’s no separation between the defense and civil sides, so you’ll see the latest in-flight entertainment system pitched alongside cruise missiles, guns and bombs.
If you’ve never been to an airshow, that part is a bit surreal.
Still, it’s a fun chance to get a glimpse at what’s new in the aerospace industry.
I especially enjoyed checking out this model A350-1000 with transparent pieces of fuselage, showing off the entire interior — including the flight attendant rest.
The Boeing Business Jet
Have you ever been aboard a Southwest 737-700, outfitted to carry 143 passengers, and thought “boy, I wish there were only 19 seats on this plane?”
You might want to look at the Boeing Business Jet, or BBJ.
A Boeing Business Jet, or BBJ, is a standard commercial airliner that’s outfitted as a luxurious private plane that seats just a few passengers.
While the BBJ was not part of the display at the Dubai Airshow, it was parked nearby at Dubai International Airport (DXB) and available for pre-arranged tours.
While Boeing won’t reveal details about its customers, representatives for the planemaker said that about half of BBJ customers and passengers are “high net worth” individuals, while the other half are split between heads of state and charter companies.
This particular jet is owned by Boeing and used by members of its executive board. It featured two bathrooms with showers, a bedroom with a queen bed, and a comfortable living room-type area.
If you’re in the market for a gigantic private jet, be warned: it takes time to build these. It’s about a year for Boeing to construct the base plane, another three months to add auxiliary fuel tanks, and up to another 12 months for the interior to be installed.
Wizz Air’s Airbus A321neo
The last time I was on a Wizz Air plane was 2010. I was spending 10 days traveling around Europe with a friend the summer before senior year of college, and we were on a cheap flight from Eindhoven, the second-largest airport in the Netherlands, to Prague.
At the time, the Hungarian ultra-low-cost carrier was bare bones, even compared to Ryanair. Flight attendants didn’t even have uniforms — instead, they all wore their own purple polo shirts, which didn’t match at all.
The Hungarian carrier has since morphed and expanded, launching additional bases and subsidiaries in parts of Europe as well as in Abu Dhabi.
At the airshow, I had a chance to tour one of of Wizz Air’s newest planes, an Abu Dhabi-based A321neo.
It’s still a fairly bare bones airplane and operation. As one flight attendant on board told me, “it’ll get you from A to B.”
But nevertheless, it was a fun chance to see how much more polished the airline has become — the flight crews even had uniforms! It was also particularly interesting to check out the A320neo in the context of the order that Wizz Air’s owner, Indigo Partners, placed during the show for 255 A321neo aircraft. Of those, Wizz Air will get 75 A321neos and 27 A321XLRs, while US-based Frontier Airlines, also owned by Indigo, will get 91 A321neos.
The Emirates A380
I have a confession. I’ve never flown Emirates.
I considered finally giving them a try for the airshow — it would have been easy, since there’s a direct flight from my home city of Boston to Dubai — but I found a better fare on Qatar transiting via Doha. Plus, since Qatar is a member of the Oneworld alliance, I could credit the flight to my AAdvantage account and earn credit towards my status for next year.
So I was happy to see Emirates put one of their massive A380s on display at the airshow.
Especially useful was the fact that it was a refurbished A380, featuring the airline’s updated business class seats and its brand new premium economy cabin.
The new business class seats, which are staggered in a 1-2-1 configuration, are stylish, comfortable, and functional, with well-placed power outlets, storage space, and IFE controls.
The premium economy cabin was a real treat, though. With as much as 40 inches of pitch, the 18.5 inch wide seats, laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration, were impressively comfortable.
With footrests and about 8 inches of recline, I’d say these are among the most comfortable premium economy seats I’ve tried out.
That said, I’d be inclined to sit on the sides to avoid the 4 seat clusters.
I also got to check out the first class cabin, and honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed.
To be completely fair, I wasn’t able to take a very long look at the seats — there was a mob of people trying them out and taking selfies, so it was a rushed tour of that cabin.
Economy, on the other hand, looked perfectly fine, but unremarkable. And like any A380, the cabin felt incredibly dense with a 3-4-3 layout.
Emirates’ training aircraft
On the other end of the size spectrum, Emirates had two of its smallest aircraft on display.
First there was the Cirrus SR22, a two-seater single-engine propeller plane.
The other, an Embraer Phenom 100, is a twin-jet business jet built to seat up to five passengers in a standard configuration.
Don’t expect to see Emirates’ newest first class products installed on this light aircraft. In fact, don’t expect to see any passengers on them at all.
The two jets are part of a fleet maintained by the Emirates Flight Training Academy, a pilot recruitment and training initiative that Emirates launched in 2017.
Students fly these aircraft as they learn how to fly, before eventually graduating up to bigger and bigger planes, finally qualifying on the wide-body Boeing 777s and Airbus A380s that make up Emirates’ fleet.
The flying display
Finally, there was the flying display. Every day at 2 p.m., you’d hear a loud roar as fighter jets, stunt helicopters, and airliners took to the skies for two hours to show off their moves.
And thanks to the layout of the airshow venue, spectators were remarkably close and could get incredible views.
Given the heavy defense focus of airshows, a lot of the aircraft in the flying display were military.
Some of those displays were incredible, whether coordinated helicopter moves from the Indian Air Force Sarang team, dramatic flying from U.S. or U.A.E. F16s, or team demonstrations from Pakistani, Russian, Saudi, and other air forces.
Other treats included more mundane aircraft, such as a Japanese Kawasaki C-2. This may just be a turbofan transport aircraft, but it’s not one that we see very often, as it’s currently only in service with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.
But of the civil airliners that did participate, the flying was equally impressive.
On the first day, Boeing’s 777X banked so steeply that it was practically halfway into a barrel roll.
Loathe to be outdone, Airbus took an A350 up to show off every angle of the plane.
The Russian-made Irkut MC-21 also put on a show, which was a particular treat since it’s unlikely that we’ll see this single-aisle A320 and 737 competitor anywhere near the U.S. when it eventually enters service.
Another thrill: Italian aerospace company Leonardo’s AgustaWestland AW609. A unique VTOL aircraft similar to the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey, used by the U.S. military, the AW609 can land and take-off like a helicopter, before rotating its propellers forward and flying like a traditional fixed-wing aircraft.
Speaking of, one of those V-22s was also part of the display, flown by the U.S. Marine Corps.
All in all, the show was a fascinating five days. While the real benefits of the show for a reporter are the meetings, press conferences, briefings, and other events, the chance to be up close and hands-on with the latest of the aviation industry is still an absolute thrill.
Even if the arms sale portion can feel offputting.
Featured photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy.
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