REPORT: Dubai Airshow 2015

I love a good air show and I don’t mind travelling to see them, so when the opportunity arose to visit the 2015 Dubai Air show, I jumped at the offer. So for the first time I stepped out of the city and into the desert for what would be the 14th running of the Dubai International Airshow, held from the 8th-12th November 2015.

The USAF F-22 pulls up behind a Qatari A350 on static display. Photo: Peter Lawrence.

The Dubai air show has a history of late of producing some serious numbers in regards to new aircraft orders but 2015 was always going to be a challenging year with many countries around the world tightening their purse strings, budgets reducing and airlines reeling back their mass spending. The previous 2013 air show broke all records in regards to new aircraft orders, coming in at over 200 billion dollars worth of orders. “Would that trend continue or would the orders slow?” was the question being asked by many observers and to a degree they have been proven right; although a few large-ish orders have filtered through over the 5 days of the show, overall orders are down. An order for 75 Boeing 737-8MAX aircraft for Jet Airways was about the biggest new order delivered to the press by the respective manufacturers.

Frecce Tricolori were due to make their much-anticipated Middle-Eastern debut. Photo: Peter Lawrence

 The first thing I noticed as day one started on the Sunday was how well the transport was arranged. I caught the tram from my hotel near the Burj Al Arab to the last stop where we were greeted by helpers to guide us to the free shuttle buses, which took about 1 hour… but for the cost of a hamburger it was a great start!

Boeing’s stand in the exhibition hall included several impressive models of their aircraft. Photo: Peter Lawrence.

After arriving and clearing security, I spent the first few hours touring the trade hall. As expected all the majors had extensive stands. From Boeing to Sukhoi, paint to interiors, every area of the industry was well represented. Out on the apron the static display was well displayed with a great mix of civilian and military hardware.

Qatar’s business class offering is second-to-none, even when compared to other Gulf airlines. Photo: Peter Lawrence.

The highlight for me was the chance to directly compare the A380 products of Emirates, Etihad & Qatar. Whilst they all had their strengths and weaknesses, I would rate the best business product to Qatar, with Etihad taking both the economy & first trophies. Emirates, while good, are already starting to look dated compared to its Middle East competitors. And let’s not forget Etihad’s “The Residence”, a private 3-room suite which takes opulence to the next level!

An Emirati Mirage 2000 made a rare appearance with smokewinders below the wings. Photo: Peter Lawrence.

The flying display went from 14:00 to 16:30 each day from Sunday through Thursday, although the program was cancelled on the last two days due sand storms creating low visibility (less than 500m at times!).

Al Fursan have received training from both Il Frecce Tricolori and La Patrouille de France. Photo: Peter Lawrence.

Al Fursan, with their fleet of seven Aermacchi MB-339NAT jet trainers, opened the show with a great display of close quarters formation aerobatics. The team, formed in 2010, has been displaying all over the world with a bunch of great reviews received. The mix of group and solo maneuvers wowed the crowd, helped by the thick red, green & white smoke trails marking their progress.

The 10-ship Frecce Tricolori are the world’s largest jet team. Photo: Peter Lawrence.

The other jet display team present was the Frecce Tricolori of the Italian Aeronaitica Militare. They perform using ten Aermacchi MB-339PAN jet trainers. As with the Al Fursan, their display was always exciting to watch with an impressive degree of precision shown with each maneuver.

The gear comes up during a steep climb as the A350 wows the crowds. Photo: Peter Lawrence.

The flying program was largely the same every day, with the order of appearance the main day to day difference. Over the course of the next four days the performers put on a great display. The Airbus A350 (carbon livery) showed the crowd how easily a large, modern passenger aircraft can be thrown around the sky, while still looking amazingly graceful.

Dassault is keen to further increase the export success of its Rafale series. Photo: Peter Lawrence

 More than half the flying program consisted of military fast jets, including:-

  • USAF Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor from the 199th Fighter Squadron, Hickam AFB.
  • AdlA Dassault Rafale from its temporary home with Escadron 03.030 at Al Dhafra Air Base.
  • UAEAF Dassault Mirage 2000-9EAD/DAD from Al Dhafra Air Base.
  • USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancer ‘Symphony of Destruction’ from the 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth AFB.
  • RAF Eurofighter Typhoons from 29(R)Sqn Coningsby & 3(R)Sqn Coningsby
  • UAEAF Lockheed Martin F-16E Desert Falcon from Al Dhafra Air Base

The F-22 was easily one of the most impressive fast jet displays of the year. Photo: Peter Lawrence.

The factory-flown PC-21 from Pilatus also put on a spirited display each day. Flow by the Pilatus test pilot it was a great display of speed & agility given it’s ‘just’ a turboprop!

The PC-21 is the next in a line of popular Swiss flying trainers. Photo: Peter Lawrence.

Another propeller aircraft, or more accurately a radial duo, The Breitling Wingwalkers put on a top shelf performance as always, with pilots David Barrell & Martyn Carrington ensuring that sisters Emily & Stella Guilding always looked their best atop their 1930s Boeing Stearmans.

Breitling Wingwalkers have displayed across Europe, Asia, the Middle-East and Australia. Photo: Peter Lawrence.

One last surprise was a short handling display by the newest aircraft in the Emirates fleet, a Cirrus SR-22 followed by an Embraer Phenom 100E.  These aircraft (22 SR-22’s and 5 Phenoms) form the fleet of the newly created Emirates Flight Training Academy, to be based at Dubai World Center.

The Phenom and Cirrus are not regular airshow participants, and with good reason! Photo: Peter Lawrence

All the displays were well flown; the only criticism was the positioning of the display line along the main runway. As the expo is held in a specially built display hall it has its own hard stands which, along with the expo hall, are both set back from the main runway. This means that for aircraft like the Mirage, a HQ zoom/prime lens is a must.

The UAEAF’s F-16 performs a high-G turn with full afterburner! Photo: Peter Lawrence

The other issue is the weather & heat. While the heat haze was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting, the constant haze at low level made photography quite tricky at times. The sandstorms on the last two days didn’t help either!

The RAF Typhoon is no stranger to Dubai’s skies, and has achieved export success in the region. Photo: Peter Lawrence.

All in all though I thought this was a very well planned & presented airshow with an excellent variety of aircraft on both static & flying display. (editor’s note: members of the public may access a separate Skyview grandstand, but do not have access to the static display or exhibition hall). While being a trade only show will limit its access to some, for those that can I would highly recommend trying to attend the 2017 Dubai Air Show… I know I will be!

The B-1, affectionately called the “BONE”, performed several flypasts. Photo: Peter Lawrence.

Peter Lawrence is a Bombardier Dash 8 captain based in Australia who enjoys travelling the world to see as many airshows as possible. He runs Pedro Aviation Photography.