Dubai carriers threw down the gauntlet to emerging regional rivals with more than $50 billion of Boeing jet orders on Monday, as competition intensifies to secure dwindling supplies of long-haul jets and anticipate growth in international travel.
Government-owned Emirates and sister airline flyDubai secured 125 Boeing (BA.N) wide-body jets at the opening of the Dubai Airshow, but left Europe’s Airbus (AIR.PA) waiting for an order for broadly similar jets.
Monday’s 777X orders include 55 of the future 400-seat version known as 777-9 and 35 of the smaller 777-8.
Emirates also signed up for five extra 787 Dreamliners while flyDubai ordered 30 of the same type in its first order for long-haul aircraft.
“Together these orders represent significant investments that reflect Dubai’s commitment to the future of aviation,” said Emirates and flyDubai Chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
The aviation and tourism industries are crucial to Dubai’s economy, which lacks the oil wealth of many neighbouring states. The government aims to double the size of the economy over the next decade.
Industry officials said the orders raised the stakes in airline competition as Saudi Arabia expands its fleet and airlines in Turkey and India forge plans to steer more connecting traffic away from the Gulf.
“They are saying we are the big elephant in the room (and) demonstrating that they are a big player,” Air Lease Corp (AL.N) Executive Chairman Steven F. Udvar-Hazy said after the twin Dubai announcements.
Demand for the industry’s biggest jets that dominate the region’s airports is humming after a prolonged cyclical downturn followed by the damaging effect of COVID-19 on long-haul travel.
Industry officials estimate airlines worldwide are negotiating behind the scenes to buy some 700-800 new jets, including 200-300 of the world’s largest, as they catch up on fleet replacement plans set aside during the pandemic.
But Air Lease Corp’s Udvar-Hazy questioned whether there was room for all the capacity. “They are fighting for the same passengers,” he added.
Turkish Airlines (THY) (THYAO.IS) burst onto the show’s agenda on Saturday with word from state-run Anadolu news agency that it was in talks to buy up to 355 Airbus jets.
“Airbus and Turkish Airlines have reached an agreement in principle for a significant commercial aircraft order,” Airbus said. “We are ratifying this agreement and will communicate in the coming days.”
One Mideast source described the prospect of a Turkish order as a “bold move” coming in the backyard of Gulf rivals.
Other significant orders appear to be in the works but the competition was unlikely to be played out in public in Dubai.
Saudi Arabia’s newest airline Riyadh Air said it is still in talks with planemakers to place an order for narrow-body jets.
Saudia Airlines Group is planning to order about 150 narrow-bodied aircraft for Saudia Airline and low-cost Flyadeal, the group’s vice president for fleet management told Asharq TV.
In previous years, the Dubai Airshow has seen a frenzy of announcements by the likes of Emirates and other Gulf carriers.
Saudi Arabia has established Riyadh Air as part of plans to transform the kingdom into a major aviation hub, a segment that is dominated by Dubai and Qatar’s Doha.
Dubai is staging the biennial aerospace pageant against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza that is pushing up demand for weapons and closing airspace, making flights longer and more expensive for some airlines.
Travel analysis firm ForwardKeys said on Friday flight bookings had fallen around the world since Oct. 7, including a 26% slump in bookings to the Middle East.
“There’s enough statistical evidence, at least in the short term, to show that there’s been a substantial drop in tickets sales into the region,” said Daniel Silke, director of Cape Town-based Political Futures Consultancy.
Analysts have said the war in Gaza is also likely to reinforce demand for weapons on top of a surge in the past 18 months as the United States and its allies rearm Ukraine against Russia. However, few major arms deals are expected at the show.