DUBAI — The Dubai Airshow has wrapped up.

Day 1

Today was about two things: First, the 777X. Second, the ridiculous amount of money put up by the Gulf Big Three carriers to whet their aviation appetite. Neither is terribly surprising: It’s been obvious for ages that this show would, for better or worse, be dominated by the 777X. And the Big Three have been clear about making a big splash for some time as well.

So let’s just get right to it: As we know, Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar all placed substantial orders and commitments for the new wide-body jet. Emirates commitment for 150 jets, by itself, is more than total value of the last Dubai Airshow. While the number seems huge (because it is), remember that the carrier is currently the largest 777 operator in the world today. The 777X will largely be replacing existing 777s. So while the number is huge, it makes sense. This is splashy, but not all that surprising.

As if that wasn’t enough, Emirates then went on to place an order for fifty Airbus A380 aircraft; the largest single order for the super jumbo airplane yet. Plus side? Airbus has to be thrilled: The big quad-jet had not chalked up a single order all year, then bags fifty – though it’s also pretty likely the A380 orders were sandbagged specifically for the show. Down side? It’s still only Emirates ordering them. While fifty airplanes is fifty airplanes, so far no one else appears to want them.

Etihad’s 777X order largely overshadowed it’s substantial 787-10 purchase. The carrier added thirty Dreamliner -10s to its cart, delivering unto Boeing it’s 1,000th 787 order. The purchase also underscores that, in the hype surrounding the 777X, the Dreamliner is still a desirable commodity.

Even more overshadowed was flyDubai’s substantial order for 75 737MAX airplanes and 15 737NG aircraft. Normally this would be big news in itself, especially given the MAX’s less than spectacular order book so far, and rumors that the carrier was seriously considering the Airbus A320NEO. But when announced during the Emirates press conference it was practically tossed out as a cheap appetizer to the 777X spending bonanza. Perhaps it wasn’t too surprising, given that the airline currently runs 737s exclusively anyways. Either way the order is a big deal, giving a helpful shot in the arm to the 737 successor.

The totals give Boeing 342 aircraft on order for a value of $100 billion – on day one.

But Airbus isn’t to be completely forgotten about. First, as noted above, was the order for fifty A380 aircraft by Emirates. Second, Qatar ordered five Airbus A330 freighters to compliment their existing fleet. Etihad, also went all out, purchasing fifty more Airbus A350 airplanes along with 36 A320’s, and a single A330 freighter.

In other news, Etihad announced it would start a new regional carrier called Etihad Regional. The new airline will spawn off former Swiss carrier Darwin Airlines, which Etihad acquired a one third stake in. Etihad has been on a spat of acquiring carriers recently, having taken over Air Serbia several weeks back.

Aside from record breaking spending, a new airplane program launch, and a new ‘carrier’ being formed, not much else happened today, unless you count the giant sandstorm that shut down the flight demonstrations. Yes, a giant sandstorm managed to roll onto the airfield around 2:30PM local time, right as the flight demos were getting underway. The wind whipped sand quickly ended flight operations and eventually cleared out most of the ramp. It also filled every available crevice with sand, from my cameras to my suit. Luckily there was a VIP A320, and later the Omega Tanker DC-10, to ride it out in.

We did notice that attendance was awfully low for the show. Despite being mired in choked traffic lanes and long lines to begin with, once inside things appeared downright quiet which is quite surprising given that this is the most newsworthy airshow in years. Veterans of the Dubai show noted that the place seemed virtually empty in comparison to previous years, and that was before the sandstorm began. If were to put my money on why, it’d be because of the location at Dubai World Central. It’s in the middle of nowhere, almost literally. I went out to one of the last stops on the Metro to catch a shuttle, which then drove thirty minutes through the desert before a giant building appeared to rise from the sand like a mirage. An hours drive away isn’t any fun for anyone, let alone the folks who have to pay for a cab, or take twice that via public transit.

Anyway, with the 777X launch and the crazy spending of the Gulf carriers out of the way in a single day (more accurately in four hours), it’ll be interesting to see what else will happen at the show. We will be here to cover it all.

Day 2

As the Red Arrows demonstration teams soars overhead, another day has come and gone in the desert outside Dubai. Compared to yesterday’s out of control spending spree it was a quiet day, with just a smattering of orders and a handful of program updates.

First, however, back to yesterday. Turns out that the back to back to back to back spending bonanza (Emirates, Qatar, and FlyDubai spent tens of billions in a matter of ten minutes) was not exactly supposed to go down as such. The carriers were angling one another to be the first out the door, with Etihad moving up their press conference a full hour not long before to beat out Emirates. FlyDubai, whose 737MAX order wound up lopped in with EK and QR, was supposed to have been later in the week. Unless Boeing is sandbagging, they reported that they have no further firm orders to report during the show. Several talks are pending, however.

Second, Boeing’s press conference today was decidedly underwhelming – at least on the details of the 777X front. But there were some interesting tidbits that didn’t fit the story we ran:

  • All they really had to say about the 747-8 was “it keeps getting better”. Too bad the same is not true of the airplane’s order book. Curiously we noted that Boeing said they offer a more full range of options, particularly at the larger capacity end. Yet Airbus still offers the A380, which can be configured to match the capacity of a 777-9X or a 747-8i, like Korean’s for example. As they see the 747-8 as a niche airplane they’re not counting the A380 as competitor to either, and generally it isn’t. But it’s interesting for them to tout how they offer greater capacity flexibility, particularly on the upper end…until you get too big.
  • Scott Fancher, GM of Commercial Airplanes, noted that he thought it was funny that media kept hammering the storyline that the 777X was tailored to the Gulf carriers. A Lufthansa executive (and remember the German carrier was very involved in the airplane’s design), said the airplane is a “global player, and if the box we designed was sufficient for the Gulf Carriers, it must be pretty nice.” Still, Emirates was rumored to be hammering down high level design components as late as last week before firming the deal. So while tailored may not be the right word, the Gulf Carriers clearing wielded significant influence.
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In non-Boeing news, Bombardier came out a modest winner in today’s orders race, putting up orders for ten Q400 NextGen airplanes. Air Cote d’Ivoire ordered two of the turboprop while opting for two options. Ethiopian Airlines followed later in the day, ordering eight. Ethiopian has been burning an aggressive expansion in east and west Africa for the past few years, but this is the first order for regional airplanes since they first began receiving the Q400 back in 2009.

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Related, Ethiopian scored the first Bombardier authorized service facility (ASF) in Africa for Q400 and Q400 NextGen airplanes. The Addis-Ababa based carrier has an extensive maintenance facility on site already, and the new ASF will no doubt give even more credibility to one of Africa’s leading maintenance providers.

What has been missing here has been CSeries orders, of which none have been announced thus far. While executives and sales person’s for the airplane have been decidedly upbeat, the lack of orders isn’t good for them. Q400 orders are great, no doubt, but not the CSeries orders I’m sure they are hoping for.

Airbus also posted a handful of orders from new Libyan carrier Libyan Wings. The newly launched Tripoli-based airline signed up for three A350-900s and four A320NEO’s. The fledgling carrier expects to begin operations for charter and freight operations in 2014.

Last but not least, ATR announced ten orders for their ATR-72-600 turboprop from GE Capital Aviation Services, worth $241 million. ATR also snuck in a single order on Sunday with Saudi private carrier Alpha Star Aviation Services.

While today was largely devoid of heavy spending, it was thankfully devoid of sandstorms. All demonstrations went on as scheduled, wowing a crowd that was still unimpressive in size.

Day 3

 Day three in the desert has officially wrapped up. It was not a splashy day, with only a handful of orders and interesting tidbits coming out: no big headlines. Nevertheless it was an important day for Bombardier, who locked in a very important order today.

Bombardier breathes sigh of relief: The big news of the day came from Bombardier, which finally confirmed their first CSeries order of the show. Iraqi Airways was the lucky customer, announcing an order for five CSeries CS300 airplanes. The deal, considered only a letter of intent by Bombardier, also includes eleven options for a total of up to sixteen aircraft. The CSeries has struggled to attract orders as of late, with the last one from mid-October.

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The carrier will operate a 132 passenger configuration, split between twelve first and 120 economy seats – a low density for a plane built to carry closer to 150. Iraqi Airways will give back some of their existing CRJ-9 aircraft as part of the deal, which they said are no longer able to meet growing demand.

The carrier said they chose the CSeries over competing Airbus A319 and Boeing 737-700 due to its low fuel, maintenance, and overall operating costs. CEO Captain Saad Al-Khafaji waved off concerns, literally, about operating the untested airplane, simply stating “no”. The airplanes will operate out of secondary airports to routes into Europe and the Middle East.

The order is not surprising, and had been rumored for some time. Nevertheless it was welcome news for the company. Bombardier would not comment on whether any new orders could be expected, but did say that they would continue to be available to show their mock-up through tomorrow to potential customers (most of the commercial components of the show typically wrap up on day three).

Continuing the trickle that started yesterday, the company also announced more Q400 NextGen orders. Abu Dhabi Aviation, a niche carrier in the Middle East region, ordered two Q400 Next Gen. Thai carrier Nok Air placed a firm order for two of the airplane plus two options and four purchase rights. Today’s orders bring Bombardier’s Q400 orders up to fourteen for the week.

Nok Air will also be the launch customer of an evolutionary modification to the Q400, called the Q400 NextGen Extra Capacity Seating Configuration. The update, which Bombardier says is available immediately for new builds or as a retrofit, now enables the airplane to squeeze up to 86 with 29 inches of pitch (a Bombardier executive actually apologized for it). The ‘improvement’ was gained by removing a forward baggage door and replacing it with a regular emergency exit.

Finally in Bombardier news, the Canadian manufacturer also announced a letter of intent by China Express for the Canadair CRJ-900.

Back to the Iraqi Airways thread, Al-Khafaji confirmed to Airchive that they are in talks with both big manufacturers to expand their long-haul fleet. The airline is currently negotiating with Airbus for A330s and Boeing for 777s. The carrier presently operates both in their long-haul fleet, and has 787 Dreamliner’s on order, which they expect to receive in 2015.

New 787 Orders: The 787-8 secured a surprising order today for two airplanes via TUI Travel PLC, extending the carrier’s orders to fifteen

Air Serbia announced a small order for ten Airbus A320NEO, part of a fleet renewal plan that will be completed in 2020. The small Belgrade-based carrier was known as JAT Airways until just over six weeks ago when it was rebranded as Air Serbia. The airline is gradually transitioning away from their current fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft as it leases a mixture of Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft to serve near-mid distance international markets. The A320NEO airplanes will replace the leased Airbus airplanes starting in 2018.

The airline is seeking to become the next top carrier in a region laden with entrenched competition such as nearby Wizz Air. They had no comment on how they would accomplish the feat, stating that they are “investing in product and people…[while] focusing on what we need to do, and less what others are doing.”

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Interestingly the order does not increase Airbus’ total order books for the show. In a convoluted series of twists and turns, Etihad, who owns a 49% stake in Air Serbia, negotiated the deal on the smaller carrier’s behalf so the government of Serbia, who owns the remaining 51% stake, would not have to do it themselves. As a result, the ten airplanes were already announced during Etihad’s Airbus purchase on Sunday.

Boeing gave an update on their 737MAX during a morning briefing. The airplane, which received a substantial boost earlier in the week with the large order from flyDubai, is on track for a first flight in 2017.

Unrelated fun fact, the use of the word “maximum” was dropped three times in the release.

Another unrelated fun fact, I only just discovered the press room has had a stash of ice cream available for days. The find gives me hope that I can press on through the remaining two days.

Finally, a few fun photos:

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