MIAMI – In the end, it was a much more interesting Dubai Airshow than expected.

As happened two years ago, the last two days of the event – when many senior executives had already departed, and the exhibition hall aisles were noticeably quieter – were the setting for unexpectedly large purchases.

READ MORE: Analysis: The Dubai Air Show Wraps-up – Numbers and Prospects

Admittedly, the event had also started with a bang. Hometown carrier, Emirates’ anticipated order for more Airbus A380s  turned into an unexpected one for 40 Boeing 787-10s.

But it was the huge orders for both major OEMs at the end of the show –225 Boeing 737 MAX for the local low-cost carrier (LCC), flydubai plus a the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for 430 Airbus A320neo-family aircraft split between four LCCs owned by venture capitalists Indigo Partners– that caught people’s attention.

READ MORE: Dubai Air Show: Airbus Secures Record-Breaking $50 billion A320neo Deal with Indigo Partners

Both were largely unexpected. Indeed, most of Airbus’s top brass had already flown back to Europe, apparently miffed at the failure to land the Emirates order, leaving retiring sales supremo John Leahy to announce what will be one of the last orders of his illustrious career with the European airframer.

The other side of Airshows

Airshows are not just about orders, although those are what tend to make the headlines in the non-specialist press. In the cool of the air-conditioned chalets, journalists have the chance to bag interviews with ordinarily difficult-to-reach execs.

Bombardier’s VP Commercial, Colin Bole, confided that the company saw North Africa as a promising target for its CSeries. And those targets extend beyond Egyptair, which ordered 12 CS300s and took purchase rights for another 12 for its domestic and regional subsidiary Egyptair Express at the show.

READ MORE: Dubai Air Show: EgyptAir, Bombardier Sign Deal for 24 CS300s

“We have active engagement with a lot of the North African carriers, as well as some in the Near East,” he said. “Those are regions where we see strong possibilities.

“They’re areas where the focus is not so much on wide-bodied aircraft and where flight times to Europe are a little bit shorter [than from the Gulf]. They have a lot more point-to-point traffic than the ‘Big 3’ in the Gulf so, again, the size is right.”

Bole sees the CSeries as replacing Airbus A319s and Boeing 737-600s and -700s.

Bombardier already has orders with Gulf Air, SaudiGulf Airlines and Iraqi Airways for the CSeries, which entered airline service this year.

An airBaltic CS300 was in the static park; the Latvian carrier has just begun services from its Riga base to Abu Dhabi – a 6½-hour sector aimed at reminding airlines of the aircraft’s capabilities on long, thin routes.

Bole said that Iraqi Airways is likely to be the first of the existing group of buyers to take the Canadian aircraft.

The tie-up with Airbus has already had a beneficial effect on sales efforts for the CSeries, added Bole.

Airlines had previously acknowledged the aircraft’s technical merits but had wanted to be sure of its commercial success and residual values before taking the plunge and signing an order.

The Airbus connection has helped pick up the pace of several slower-moving sales campaigns, he said.

What About Embraer?

John Slattery, President and CEO of Bombardier’s great rival, Embraer Commercial Aircraft, was seemingly relaxed about the prospect of Bombardier obtaining access to Airbus’s marketing muscle.

He believed that, ultimately, Airbus’s involvement with the CSeries would generate more overall activity in the regional airliner marketplace; and as 95% of airliner purchases were the result of competitive bidding processes, Embraer was likely to be asked to bid at airlines with which it had not previously had a relationship.

READ MORE: Analysis: Airbus Acquires 50% of Bombardier CSeries

That presented an opportunity for its new E2 series of regional jets, he said.

The E190 E2 is within 90 days of final certification; more than 85% of the flight-test programme has been completed and the first revenue-earning flights are targeted for April 24 next year with lead customer Wideroe of Norway.

“When you study aircraft programmes over the past 40 years, there’s an almost perfect correlation between certification and new deals,” noted Slattery. “In the next two quarters, I want to see our sales people get more airlines, particularly marquee names.”

The E2 programme – which will consist eventually of the 80 to 90-seat E175 E2, the 96 to 114-seater E190 E2 and the 120 to 146-seat E195 E2 – is unusual in commercial aircraft programmes in that the aircraft is ahead of schedule and under budget.

Slattery believes that the Middle East and Africa present excellent opportunities for the E2: “Around 50% of intra-Middle East flights depart with less than 120 passengers; over 60% of Middle East routes have less than one direct daily return flight.”

Many airlines are using inappropriate narrow-bodied equipment on such routes; he said: “I think there’s probably a large degree of asset abuse in the region, with larger aircraft being used sub-optimally with lower load factors.”

Research has shown, he said, that improved financial returns result from using a smaller aircraft operating more frequent services.

SCAC is Preparing for the Wild Market

Across in the Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Corporation (SCAC) chalet, meanwhile, newly-installed company president Alexander Rubtsov said the Russian manufacturer aims to decide on whether to launch the stretched -400 version of its MC21 narrowbody by the end of the year.

The initial MC21-300 has just started flights at the Zhukovsky test center outside Moscow and, once certificated, will carry 163-211 passengers depending on layout. The -400 will be able to carry up to 250. Not quite the same size as Boeing’s anticipated New Midsize Airplane, “but getting very close to it,” said Rubtsov.

SCAC also plans to decide by Q1 2018 on whether it starts development of either a smaller or larger variant of its SJ100 Superjet.

The company is discussing with customers whether a ‘shrunk’ 75-seater version or a stretched 130-seat variant of the 100-seat conventional aircraft should take priority.

One factor being weighed is whether the aircraft’s SaM 146 turbofan can be ‘tweaked’ to give sufficient thrust for the larger version, or whether other engine options should be examined.

SCAC is developing a new winglet for the aircraft to help landing and take-off performance for short runways such as that at London City Airport, as well as delivering a 3% improvement in fuel burn, he said. This will become a standard production-line item and will be available for retrofitting.

The SSJ100 will begin test flights into London City in December.

High buildings to the west of the runway mean that aircraft have to make a 5.5-degree approach, almost twice as steep as the standard 3-degree slope. This requires new control laws for the aircraft’s software. London City is a significant destination for Ireland’s CityJet, which is receiving 15 SSJ100s.