DALLAS — The 2023 edition of the renowned Dubai Airshow has concluded with resounding success. As the largest aviation event in the Middle East, this year marked its illustrious 10th edition under its current name.
The show proved to be a spectacle of historic proportions, featuring news-grabbing announcements, substantial aircraft orders, pivotal partnerships, and awe-inspiring flight displays. It captured the attention of a staggering 100,000 attendees, both physically present and virtually engaged from the comfort of their homes.
Anticipation for this particular showcase was immense, and it certainly lived up to the hype, surpassing all expectations. Boasting an impressive lineup of over 1400 exhibitors and a remarkable display of 190 aircraft, its influence on the region is unparalleled.
The Dubai Airshow not only served as a platform for established companies to showcase their prowess, but it also served as a springboard for nascent companies entering the market. Furthermore, it prompted established airlines to reimagine their strategies and embrace new horizons within the industry.
In this final recap, we will revisit each pivotal moment etched in the history of the 10th edition of the Dubai Airshow.
Boeing Secures Its Best-Selling Day in Years
Following a rather lackluster performance in terms of marketing and commercial success at the Paris Air Show 2023, Boeing made a remarkable comeback at the Dubai Airshow, securing its most successful day in terms of commercial aircraft orders in many years.
On the first day of the trade show, November 13, the American manufacturer unveiled a staggering six different orders from various airlines. This translates to a new agreement for Boeing aircraft being announced almost every hour, an astonishing statistic.
In total, accounting for orders placed by SunExpress (XQ), Emirates (EK), FlyDubai (FZ), EgyptAir (MS), Royal Air Maroc (AT), and Royal Jordanian (RJ), Boeing secured an impressive 271 orders and options for commercial aircraft on Day 1 alone.
In contrast, Airbus faced a starkly different reality at the event. Despite making headlines a few months earlier in Paris with its largest-ever order of 500 A320 family planes from IndiGo (6E), the European competitor received considerably less attention from attendees. Airbus only announced a single deal with airBaltic (BT) for 30 Airbus A220 planes.
Emirates Saves the Boeing 777X from Its Order Drought
As the Boeing 777X program continues its lengthy and rigorous certification process, the commercial debut of this aircraft has faced multiple delays, with the first delivery now scheduled for 2025. Despite these setbacks, airline interest in the 777X has not waned over time. However, the lack of recent orders, particularly from new customers, can be attributed to these ongoing delays.
When the Boeing 777X left the Salon de Bourget in June, it had not secured a single order across its three variants. The aircraft garnered attention primarily due to its impressive size and capabilities. However, the story took a different turn at the Dubai Airshow.
Emirates (EK), keen to solidify its position as the host airline, made a spectacular start to the show by placing an order for 125 Boeing widebody aircraft, including 90 units of the passenger Boeing 777X variants. The total value of the deal is estimated at US$52 billion, according to the airline.
Emirates has now expanded its order book for the 777X to a staggering 205 units. These aircraft are intended to serve as future replacements for the Airbus A380, of which EK is currently the largest operator. Consequently, the UAE flag carrier will hold the distinction of operating the largest fleet of Boeing 777X aircraft as of today.
FlyDubai Dreams About New Long-Haul Horizons
It is highly unusual to witness an airline that primarily focuses on narrow-body airplanes making a substantial order for a long-haul aircraft. However, this is precisely what occurred at the 2023 Dubai Airshow, as FlyDubai (FZ), the sister carrier of EK, diverged from its reliance on the Boeing 737 fleet by placing a significant order for 30 Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
Valued at US$11 billion, this order will enable FZ to expand its presence in distant destinations across the Americas, Africa, Europe, and East Asia. Flight FZ1571, which connects Dubai (DXB) to Milan (BGY) using the Boeing 737-8, is the airline’s longest flight.
Undoubtedly, this substantial order raises various considerations. Until now, FZ has maintained a strong partnership with EK, facilitating seamless connections between the two airlines. Their networks are largely complementary, with minimal overlap in destinations. FZ primarily serves lower-demand routes for EK, utilizing smaller aircraft.
However, with the introduction of the Boeing 787-9, FZ now possesses a larger aircraft with a significantly greater range. This presents FZ with an opportunity to establish a more independent network, potentially separating from its sister airline. On the other hand, it could also lead to increased competition with the largest airline in the UAE.
FlyDubai’s ever-evolving strategy does not stop there. In an exclusive interview with Airways (see above video), the airline disclosed its commitment to commence regular commercial operations from Dubai World Central Airport (DWC) in the coming years. The aim of this move is to effectively accommodate FZ’s fleet expansion.
The Airbus A220 Hides the Failures of the A320 Family
It is bewildering to see that the successful Airbus A320 family did not receive a single order or commitment from airlines during DAS2023. Despite approaching its 40th anniversary in 2024, the series was unable to secure a place on the extensive order list at the Dubai Airshow.
However, other members of the Airbus family fared better, with orders being placed for the widebody flagship, the Airbus A350, and notably, the A220-300. The newest addition to Airbus’ portfolio continues to perform well in terms of sales, and it has garnered another commitment from BT, which is set to become its largest operator worldwide.
The Nordic airline is experiencing rapid expansion and consistently seeking new opportunities for competition, as the three Baltic states alone are becoming too small to accommodate its operations. With the imminent launch of its ambitious Canary Islands base, BT is poised for further growth and has also left open the possibility of establishing new hubs in southern Europe.
It remains perplexing to witness the absence of any orders for the A320neo family. This narrow-body bestseller from Airbus continues to age gracefully, but several major operators, such as Easyjet (U2), Cathay Pacific (QX), and WizzAir (W6), had already announced orders for this aircraft prior to the Dubai Airshow, with a combined total of over 250 units.
Africa Plays a Key Role at the Dubai Airshow
Africa made a significant presence at the 2023 Dubai Airshow, emerging as one of the most promising markets in commercial aviation, following in the footsteps of Asia. The region secured nearly 100 aircraft through three notable orders placed during the first two days of the event.
EgyptAir (MS), the national carrier of Egypt, took a significant step towards expanding and renewing its fleet by placing an order for 28 aircraft from both Boeing and Airbus. Starting in 2025, the airline will receive 10 Airbus A350-900s and 18 dry-leased Boeing 737-8s, becoming a new operator of both aircraft types.
Ethiopian Airlines (ET), on a similar trajectory, placed a much larger order for a total of 78 aircraft from the two Western manufacturers. With ambitions to become one of the top 20 airlines in the world in terms of size, Ethiopian Airlines will take delivery of 11 A350-900s, 26 Boeing 787-9s, and up to 41 Boeing 737-8s over the next decade.
Lastly, Royal Air Maroc (AT), a significant operator in North Africa, placed a crucial order to expand its widebody fleet by adding two additional Boeing 787-9 aircraft. This expansion will enable the Moroccan flag carrier to quadruple its fleet by 2037.
Riyadh Air Outlines Crucial Fleet and Marketing Details
Shifting our focus back to the Middle East, it’s worth noting that the United Arab Emirates was not the only country in the region making significant updates and announcements at the Dubai Airshow. One of the most buzzed-about topics at the event revolved around the new Saudi carrier, Riyadh Air (RX). The airline unveiled its second livery, which generated considerable attention.
During an exclusive interview with Airways, Peter Bellew, the COO of RX, explained that the newly announced white livery symbolizes the “purity of the Saudi sky” and will not overshadow the indigo scheme. “You still got the blue and the lavender there as well. You’ve got the whole element of clean lines, and there is an air of minimalism around it. It’s a nice contrast between the two liveries.”
“They will be mixed up and mixed around,” he continued, and who knows? There might be other liveries in the future as well.” Unlike the first design, this livery was not physically present on a Boeing 787 at DAS223 but was instead unveiled virtually. Bellew expressed excitement about this approach, stating, “Rather than painting an aircraft a second time, to do it virtually like the way we did it, using augmented reality, I think it’s quite exciting. I’m not sure anybody has done that before.”
However, a crucial detail outlined by Bellew in the interview pertained to their upcoming order for narrow-body aircraft. He revealed, “At the moment, we expect to have a single-type widebody and a single-type narrowbody fleet. We already have 72 Boeing 787s. We expect to have 270 aircraft by 2030. It will be a big order for narrow bodies.”
According to Bellew, the narrow-body order is expected to take the form of a 200-aircraft deal for a single type, which could potentially belong to the Boeing 737 MAX family. Bellew emphasized that operating a single fleet is “cost-effective and manageable” in terms of training and resources. The details of the order will be finalized in the coming weeks.
Saudia to Move Out of Riyadh by 2030
As part of its “New Era” strategy by 2030, Saudia (SV), the national airline of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, will be withdrawing from King Khalid International Airport (RUH) in Riyadh. This means that in seven years, the flagship carrier will conclude its more than 70-year operational history in the capital city and transfer all its operations to the emerging Riyadh Air company. Peter Bellew, during an interview, also confirmed this announcement.
Bellew stated, “Saudia has more business than it can handle with the current fleet down in Jeddah. They will, over time, move back to Jeddah. We are cooperating with them in many ways, but if you think about it, the capital is Riyadh, and our brand is Riyadh.”
Abdullah Alshahrani, the Media Affairs General Manager at Saudia, corroborated the move. He explains, “We have a pillar in our transformation program called ‘Jeddah Hub’. Riyadh Air will concentrate on the businesses, compromises, and all activities in Riyadh. Saudia will concentrate on Hajj and Umrah, tourism, and west coast projects.”
Saudia recently commenced one of its largest-ever rebranding initiatives, known as the “New Era,” which goes beyond a mere livery change, drawing inspiration from schemes and designs of the 1980s. This extensive project is set to significantly reshape the Saudi aviation market in the coming decade. Stay tuned for the complete Airways exclusive interview with Saudia, coming soon.
A Display Full of Surprises
The aircraft lineup at the 2023 Dubai Airshow was undeniably one of the most comprehensive and thrilling ever seen. With over 190 aircraft representing various markets and purposes, the display apron at Dubai World Central Airport was filled with airplanes and visitors.
However, there were some surprises on the official display list. Airbus, for instance, flew one of its A350-1000 prototype aircraft, F-WMIL, which was originally intended as a demonstrator for promoting Qantas’ (QF) ‘Project Sunrise’ and was not initially expected to be showcased at the event.
Additionally, attendees were eagerly anticipating the presence of two significant aircraft in the industry. Unfortunately, neither the upcoming Airbus A321XLR, renowned for its long-range capabilities of flying up to 4,700nm nonstop nor the new Air India Express (IX) Boeing 737 MAX, with its freshly unveiled livery, made an appearance in Dubai.
Despite the absence of these aircraft, their non-representation did not significantly detract from the overall display. DAS2023 featured a historic lineup, including ten commercial widebody aircraft and over 100 other exciting jets and turboprops, ensuring that the ground and flight displays were captivating and memorable.
Airways‘ photography staff captured the best angles, points of view, and close-ups of the most significant aircraft showcased at the event, further enhancing the visual documentation of this remarkable lineup.
Overall Balance of DAS2023
The Dubai Airshow 2023 has been hailed as the largest and most successful edition in the history of the event.
With an impressive attendance of over 100,000 visitors both on-site and remotely, the participation of more than 1,400 exhibitors, the display of over 190 aircraft, and numerous milestones achieved, the 10th edition of the Dubai Airshow solidified its position as a premier gathering and summit for aviation companies worldwide, rivaling other renowned shows in Paris, Bahrain, Singapore, and Farnborough.
In addition to the exciting partnerships announced, ambitious projects unveiled, and captivating liveries and rebrandings showcased, the Dubai Airshow 2023 witnessed a total of 397 aircraft orders placed by commercial airlines from around the globe. We would love to hear from you about the most thrilling moment of the event. Share your thoughts with us on our social media platforms.
Stay tuned to Airways—we look forward to seeing you again at the Dubai Airshow 2025!
Featured image: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways