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Dubai Airshow 2021 kicks off with expectations of big deals

The rise in attacks around the region in recent years using drones pushed the sales of UAV technologies in the Middle East to reach $1.5 billion over the last five years.
This picture shows a Denel Dynamics' "Al-Tariq" precision-guided bomb kit on display during the 2017 Dubai Airshow, Nov. 14, 2017.

The Dubai Airshow 2021 kicked off Nov. 14, nearly two years after the travel and airline industries came to a near standstill.

The 17th edition of the international show is the first major global aerospace exhibition to be held since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, in a sign indicating that the world has started to regain some of its normality.

This year’s airshow features more than 20 country pavilions along with an aircraft display of over 160 commercial, military and private jets, among them the latest Boeing 777x and Bombardier Global 7500, according to the event organizer, Tarsus Middle East.

For the first time, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Brazil, Slovenia and Israel are taking part in the international aerospace event that has been organized since 1989.

The five-day event is expected to attract more than 85,000 people, the same number of visitors welcomed in 2019.

Timothy Hawes, managing director of Tarsus, told Al-Monitor that more than 1,200 exhibitors — of which 371 are new exhibitors and 80 are startups — are participating in the event.

He said, “It is the first opportunity since the pandemic for industry professionals to come together again to share significant updates, game-changing initiatives, cutting-edge technologies and sustainable solutions set to revolutionize aviation.”

Hawes expects that this year's airshow will play a vital role in taking forward major projects and initiatives that are key for transforming the industry, according to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) WAM news agency.

Discussing the expected deals during the show, Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group, told Al-Monitor that there is a possibility of future deals during the event, expecting that freighter aircraft developments will dominate.

Two weeks ahead of the event, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed, president of Dubai Civil Aviation and chairman of Dubai Airports, said that the Dubai Airshow 2021 will witness good deals for both civil and military contracts.

A set of products ranging from jumbo planes to small private jets are displayed in the airshow. However, the attention will focus on the latest technologies used in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), known as drones, given the rise in attacks with these drones around the region in recent years.

Drones became a big threat in the region, as they were used for either surveilling or attack purposes, not only by countries but also by groups or militias in Iraq, Yemen and Syria. 

The failed assassination attempt Nov. 7 that targeted Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was the latest of these attacks; the US Embassy and American forces in Iraq have been subjected to several drone attacks since the beginning of 2021.

The Institute for International Political Studies in Milan said in a study published in January that countries in the Middle East, excluding Israel, have spent around $1.5 billion on military drones over the last five years.

In terms of military technology, Israel, which is participating in the Dubai Airshow for the first time, is the most advanced drone-maker in the region.

Through the state-owned IAI Group, Israel will feature some of its defense, aerospace and commercial products. According to the Dubai Airshow website, the Israel pavilion will display "IAI Military Aircraft, IAI- systems Missiles and Space."

Israel’s participation comes after the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco agreed to normalize ties with Israel last year, which has opened the door for military cooperation between Israel and these countries.

Israel also participated for the first time in a joint naval exercise with the UAE and Bahrain last week in the Red Sea alongside the United States.

Turkey, Iran, the UAE and China are other major suppliers of drones in the region.

UAE defense conglomerate Edge Group is marking its second appearance at the Dubai Airshow 2021 as the event’s official Defense Technology Partner.

In a statement issued by the group, EDGE confirmed that it will announce 13 new product launches to market, among them updated versions of UAE-made drones such as the Shadow 25 and Shadow 50 UAVs, QX series of UAVs, Garmousha UAS, and Rash 1- and Rash 2-guided munitions systems.

Commercially, civilian drones also will grab the attention during the event, as Jeremiah Gertler, aerospace expert in Teal Group told Al-Monitor. “The civilian drone market is set to triple over the next 10 years,” he said.

There is significant demand in a number of markets where the technology is available, but national regulations do not yet allow or severely limit their use, Gertler explained, adding that Teal expects most of those regulations to change within 10 years.

The big players in the commercial drone market are DJI and Yuneec of China, and Parrot of France, but the military market is completely different, with its own set of market leaders, Gertler concluded.

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