MIAMI — In three days’ time the who’s who of the aviation world, along with hundreds of media and visitors from around the globe will converge on the city of Dubai for the year’s largest industry event. This year, Airchive will be on site, and as we prepare to head out tomorrow, let’s take a look at how this year’s show is shaping up.

Why Dubai?

The simple explanation is Emirates Airline. They’ve plunked down billions of dollars in orders over the years and have been involved in the design process of several major airframes over the last decade. As the carrier has grown, explosively, they’ve managed to create enough sway to turn a once small regional event into one of the world’s largest.

Reflecting the glitz and glamour of the city, carriers come from far and wide to announce fresh orders with as much splash as they can. The last show in the city, in 2011, raked in $63 billion in orders. This year is expected to rake in $80 billion in orders for the 777X alone, and all of the Gulf Big Three (Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar) are expected to drop some serious cash.

Between the three you’ve got the new center of the aviation world. The region is perfectly situated to serve just about any market on the globe, and thanks to the extreme wealth of the area, they can afford to do so in exceptional style. The result has gradually seen the dominance of the European flag carriers such as British Airways, Air France, and KLM fade as the Middle East has taken over the throne.

Three Sevens

Boeing’s 777X will dominate this show. It has been widely assumed for months that the carrier will launch the airplane while in Dubai, and big orders are expected to come rolling in. Emirates is reportedly considering up to 80 of the jets, nearby Gulf-region competitor Etihad is thought to be considering an order for 20-30, and Cathay Pacific is thought to be in the game as well.

(Credits: Boeing)
(Credits: Boeing)

Equally important, the launch will require Boeing to reveal fresh details on how the airplane will look, feel, and operate. So far not much is known for sure. Design-wise, the wing will be made of carbon-fiber similar to the 787 Dreamliner. It is expected to be so large that folding wingtips have been seriously considered. It will also have the world’s largest engine, produced by General Electric, which will enable the airplane to achieve the 20+% fuel burn gains being touted by Boeing.

Yet the news for the 777X may not be all good. Boeing faced a big setback Wednesday night, when members of their largest union soundly rejected an offer to build in the airplane in Seattle in exchange for deep personal benefit cuts. The move places the future build location of the airplane up in the air just before the show begins. The labor troubles could give potential buyers reason to pause for a few more weeks or even months until the issue settles down.

Referendum on the VLA?

In other wide-body news, the show will likely cast a pretty clear shadow on the future of the very-large-aircraft market: the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747-8i. Both airplanes have struggled to pick up orders over the past few years as most carriers have moved toward smaller capacity long range airplanes such as the existing 777 models, Airbus A350, and Boeing 787 lines.

(Credits: Author)
(Credits: Author)

Yet a modest order or two for the A380 seems likely. Airbus has been stating that the super jumbo, which so far has yet to chalk up a single order for 2013, was on the verge of knocking in a few more orders late in the year. With Emirates really being the only carrier left who is seriously interested in such big airplanes, the order, if there are any, seem likely to come from them. An order from a leasing company would also not be out of the question.

The 747-8i, meanwhile, has chalked up five orders this year from Korean, but is considered on life support. The airplane was never very popular to begin with, with a total of well under 150 frames ordered in its lifetime. The capacity of the 777X-9 is expected to border just below the lower end of the 747-8i’s capacity, and a cannibalization seems extremely likely. Should the 747-8i fail to garner any orders while the 777X sells like hot cakes, the die will likely wind up definitively cast for the iconic airplane.

The cargo version, known as the 747-8F could, however, see some activity from the cargo market, where the airplane has seen the bulk of its orders already anyways. Yet, the cargo market remains soft and second hand 747-400s can be had for a song.

Bombardier’s Underdog: CSeries

Bombardier’s underdog airplane, the CSeries, could wind up walking away a big winner. The airplane has been doing well in flight test, hitting crucial marks on engine performance and fuel consumption, though the flights have been infrequent. A handful of carriers are rumored to be considering orders during the show, including Iraqi Airways.

(Credits: Howard Slutsken)
(Credits: Howard Slutsken)

The airplane faces a unique challenge however, in being stuck between two market segments of seat capacity that has dogged its ability to sell. On the lower end it fights against Embraer (more below) and their successful line of regional jets. On the upper end it is pitted against the lower end of the heavily entrenched Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 duopoly, particularly the A319 neo and 737-7 Max but those have had very limited sales success. A successful outing in the Emirati desert could significantly boost the airplane’s stature.

Everyone else

While still interesting, virtually everything else in the commercial aviation sector is expected to be little more than a sideshow. We’ll start with the regional jets market: Embraer’s proposed E2, an upgrade to existing E170 and E190 models, is making its first rounds at a big show since launch customer Skywest put in an order in July. The E195-E2 will be expected to carry up to 144, butting up on the lower end of Bombardier’s CSeries . The smaller E175-E2 will carry closer to 75-90.

Up side? They’re basically the only true regional jet left in the game. Sure there’s Mitsubishi’s regional jet (MRJ), but it’s running so far behind it’s barely in the running: While the MRJ does have existing orders, it’s also facing substantial delays. If anyone’s going to make commercial regional jet purchases, the money should be on Bombardier. Downside? They’re peddling regional jets in an industry that for the time being is increasingly set on upgauging, as was seen recently with JetBlue’s deferral of their existing E190 order in favor of A320s instead.

The Airbus A320NEO and 737MAX will also continue to slug it out, though Airbus will probably stay well ahead in the race, boosted by likely sales to Asian carriers. Flydubai is also expected to make a large order for the airplanes, probably for the 737MAX, though nothing is confirmed.

No doubt it will be an interesting show, so make sure to stay tuned to Airchive through the week as we’ll be one of those thousands of media trudging through the desert to bring you all the hottest news from Dubai right to your screen. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and of course right here on the good ol’ fashion blog.