The Dubai Airshow concluded yesterday after a feverish week of aircraft orders and luxury oneupmanship. Here's what the annual aviation jamboree taught us.
1. First class is getting increasingly ridiculous
Fully enclosed private suites with floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, virtual windows and seats inspired by Nasa (and designed to simulate the feeling of weightlessness that astronauts experience on board spacecraft) were among the new innovations unveiled by Emirates for its first class cabins, as part of a multimillion dollar upgrade across its entire fleet of Boeing 777s. Those virtual windows will project live footage of views captured by cameras installed outside the plane.
Economy class passengers can expect improvements too. “Throughout the aircraft, our customers will see modern and airy cabins, with painstaking attention to detail evident in design touches such as the textured wall and ceiling panels, lighting features, and more,” Sir Tim Clark, the president of Emirates, said in a statement.
2. The superjumbo is facing a crisis
The future of the Airbus A380 superjumbo, already in doubt, is looking even more perilous. It was eagerly awaiting a lifeline order of up to 38 updated models from Emirates, but in a shock twist, the UAE carrier announced that it was instead buying 40 Boeing's 787-10 Dreamliners as part of a new $15.1billion (£11.5billion) deal. Ouch.
Emirates chief executive Tim Clark told CNBC that he wouldn't rule out buying more A380s in future, however, and said he would tell the manufacturer to “keep the (production) line going.”
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Meanwhile, for the first time ever, an Airbus A380 superjumbo was retired from service and put in storage this week. The aircraft was grounded by Singapore Airlines after only 10 years of use, and will now be kept on ice, minus its engines, in France.
3. It's not all doom and gloom for Airbus
The French manufacturer rebounded with its biggest ever single order, with Indigo Partners agreeing to buy 430 A320neos.
The landmark agreement with the US-based private equity group is worth $49.5billion, and the new jets will be divided among the four low-cost airlines it has a stake in: US-based Frontier Airlines, Chile-based JetSMART, Mexico’s Volaris and Hungary’s Wizz Air.
Airbus now has 6,000 outstanding orders for the A320 family of jets – equivalent to at least a decade's work, perhaps longer. The company has delivered nearly 8,000 of the aircraft since they were introduced 30 years ago.
4. But Boeing is leading the race
Boeing secured a $27billion agreement this week with Dubai’s first low-cost carrier Flydubai for an order of 225 737 MAX 10 planes – Boeing’s newest aircraft which was unveiled at the Paris Airshow earlier this year.
The latest deal is the largest ever purchase of single-aisle jets by a Middle Eastern airline, surpassing Flydubai’s previous record order of 75 MAX jets and 11 Next Generation 737-800s made in 2013.
The 737 Max 10 claims to have the lowest operating cost of any single-aisle plane ever made; Ryanair (among others) is waiting for 110 to be delivered. Made with advanced design technologies, the aircraft is also said to reduce noise pollution by 40 per cent and carbon emission by 14 per cent compared to previous 737s.
Inside the 737 Max 10 - Boeing's newest aircraft
5. EgyptAir is getting a facelift
The 85-year-old airline - which offers services to more than 75 destinations in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia and the US - will be updating its ageing fleet with six 787-9s from Dublin-based leasing company AerCap (the world’s largest 787 customer, with more than 115 Dreamliners owned or on order).
Innovations on the Dreamliner, introduced in 2011, include LED lighting and larger windows, while cabin pressure is lower – which Boeing claims can help reduce jet lag. It is also said to use 20 per cent less fuel, costs 30 per cent less to maintain and produces 60 per cent less noise pollution than any aircraft of a similar size.
The national carrier of Egypt also announced it would be leasing 15 A320neos from AerCap.
The move was marked as a “new chapter” for the airline in achieving its “future vision and commitment to offer complete on-board comfort,” Safwat Musallam, EgyptAir chairman and CEO, said.
“We will continue to invest in the most advanced aircraft to give our customers the best possible travel experience.”
6. Dubai is bidding for more Chinese tourists
Dubai International Airport (the world’s busiest airport in terms of international passengers) and Al Maktoum International Airport are hoping to reach an “open skies” agreement with China, in a bid to increase its passenger traffic via Dubai from China as well as south-east Asia.
“The key thing with China is to get the Chinese government to agree that opening up the domestic [aviation] market for more international operations is going to be a very positive thing for them,” Paul Griffiths, the CEO of Dubai Airport (the government-owned company that manages both airports), told The National at the show this week.
“If you look to 2024, there’s a projected increase of 1.3 billion passenger journeys from south-east Asia, China, all those areas,” he said.
The truth about Chinese travellers
“This is where the real fuel for passenger growth is going to come from and we are very excited about this possibility because Dubai is at the heart of that. We are so well positioned geographically to be able to service that market.”
Dubai Airport handled 83.6 million travellers in 2016, and is poised to reach its target of just under 90 million passengers for 2017, Mr Griffiths added.
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7. The UAE wants to build gardens on Mars
The UAE Space Agency, which was first unveiled back in 2014 with a mission to send an unmanned probe to Mars by 2021 - to scope out the prospects of colonisation - is now looking to grow plants on Mars, it was revealed at the show this week.
The country is investing in two agricultural research projects that will look at growing date palms, lettuce, tomatoes and strawberries on the Red Planet, the BBC reported.
“There are similarities between Mars and the desert,” Rashid Al Zaabi, senior strategic planner at the UAE Space Agency, said. “Well, when we get there, we'll have to eat.”
The space agency is reportedly prepared to spend $5.4billion (£4.1billion) and a mock-up of its Mars probe was unveiled at the show this week.