An Emirates A380 and the Al Fursan aerobatic team at the 2019 airshow in Dubai. Image Credit: Dubai Airshow's official website

If Dubai is one of the world’s largest aviation hubs, then the biennial Dubai Airshow is its crowning achievement.

As the emirate gears up to host this year’s mega aviation event from November 14 to 18, it is worth noting how far Dubai – home to two major carriers, Emirates and flydubai -- has come as a regional and global aviation hub.

Around 60 years ago, Dubai’s economy was mostly supported by pearling and fishing, and around just 20,000 people called it home. Dubai had no airport until 1958, and until 1962 the runway was just a compacted salt bed, with no asphalt cover.

A view of the Dubai airport when it had just started operations Image Credit: Dubai Media Office

Fast forward to the present, and Dubai is a bustling metropolis with towering skyscrapers and a population of over 3.5 million. Defying the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, its airport recently reclaimed the top spot as the world’s busiest in terms of capacity, while maintaining the top position in passenger numbers throughout most of the crisis.

The air show comes as Dubai’s aviation sector bounces back from the pandemic, which led to the grounding of passenger jets and wiped out air travel demand across the world. Over the last year, Emirates and flydubai have slowly restored their networks as major markets opened for travel.

The Dubai Airshow is a testament to the emirate’s response to the pandemic, said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, and Chairman and CEO of Emirates airline and group, during a media briefing earlier this month.

Dubai's COVID-19 response was focused on "protecting the health and wellbeing of the people as a top priority, while minimising the impact of the crisis on the nation's economy," he had said.

That Dubai’s aviation sector has bounced back is reflected in Emirates’ latest financial results. The airline posted an 81 per cent surge in its revenue to Dh24.7 billion in the April to September period this year. Emirates carried 6.1 million passengers between April 1 and September 30, 2021, up 319 per cent from the same period last year.

"Our ability to pivot and pull through the toughest period in our history to date can be attributed to Emirates' and dnata’s strong brands, high quality products and services, digital and innovation capabilities, and our amazing people,” Sheikh Ahmed said.

Meanwhile, the hub itself – Dubai International Airport (DXB) – has been seeing an influx of travellers as the emirate enters its peak tourist season and hosts high-profile events such as the Expo 2020 Dubai and ICC T20 World Cup. DXB plans to reopen its last remaining closed concourse in two weeks, allowing it to return to full capacity for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.

After clocking 10.6 million passengers in the first six months of 2021, DXB’s operator had said the airport would see ‘robust’ growth in the second half.

80,000 visitors expected

The air show will be the largest aerospace trade event to be held globally since the beginning of the pandemic, with the cancellation of European shows Farnborough and Le Bourget in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

“Being the only global air show to take place since 2019, Dubai Airshow 2021 is set to deliver its most exciting edition ever featuring world-class products from market leaders and disruptors, enhanced networking opportunities and state-of-the-art aircraft display along with major industry announcements,” says the event’s website.

The event will have more than 1,200 exhibitors from 148 countries, displaying over 160 aircraft. It will also include a host of free-to-attend conferences featuring more than 250 industry experts who will share insights and trends across nine areas of expertise including cargo, sustainability, technology and space, among others.

The Dubai Airshow, which is expected to pull in 80,000 visitors, takes place at its purpose-built venue -- Dubai Airshow Site -- at the Dubai World Central airport.


from 148 countries taking part in the 2021 edition

PCR test, vaccination proof not needed

Tarsus Group, the event’s organiser, has said that visitors will not need a negative PCR test result or proof of vaccination to enter the event. Once within the venue, visitors will have to wear their masks and follow social distancing protocols.

Dubai travel rules
• If you are an expatriate resident of the UAE or a tourist, you must present a negative PCR test result at the departure airport. This test should have been conducted within 96 hours of travelling to Dubai.
• Some residents might need to be tested again on arrival in Dubai. If you are required to take another test on arrival, you must remain in quarantine at your residence until you receive the test result. If the test result is positive, you must stay in isolation and follow the instructions of the Dubai Health Authority. If the result is negative, you do not need to quarantine yourself.
• If you are a UAE citizen, you are exempt from the PCR test prior to departure, regardless of the city or country you are coming from. However, you will be tested on arrival in Dubai.

Free shuttle buses

The event is welcoming members of the general public, families and children to witness the daily flying display from the purpose-built Skyview Grandstand at DWC. Tickets are free, but numbers are limited.

There will be free shuttle buses operating from the Expo 2020 Dubai and Ibn Battuta Metro stations. The Skyview Grandstand will be open from 1pm to 5.30pm on the days of the event. Access for the general public will be limited to the grandstand area, and not the main air show exhibition hall.


The air show is bringing a host of thought-leadership conferences based on current themes and future trends backed by experts and executives from the aerospace sector. Here is what is planned for this edition:

Cargo Connect

Cargo Connect is a two-day conference where participants can discover the available technologies to ease capacity fluctuations, speed up cargo dispatch and improve safety throughout the supply value chain.

Global air traffic management

This will serve as a platform to reconnect ANSPs (air navigation service providers) and CAAs (civil aviation authorities) to discuss shared challenges, solutions, and contingencies in this new era.

Tech Xplore

This year, for the first time, Dubai Airshow will gather tech leaders, innovators and thought leaders to discuss the tech-empowered future of the aviation industry focusing on four technology trends - 5G, artificial intelligence, cyber security and automation.

Aviation sustainability

This event will bring together aircraft manufacturers, airline operators, airports and suppliers to support UAE’s 2021 vision to accelerate sustainable development while preserving the environment.

Advanced aerial mobility

As the UAE prepares to promote itself as a hub for smart transportation, the advanced aerial mobility conference will dig deeper into the disruptive technologies transforming how we travel and the new opportunities available to the aerospace industry.

Space forum

This event will provide insights from industry leaders into how space services will make the aviation business more effective and capable.


Vista is a unique opportunity for aerospace startups to meet with key decision makers and globally ranked investors to launch, grow and scale their ventures. It will provide startups five days of mentorship clinics, workshops, competitions, networking and face time with investors to provide real opportunities to launch, scale and grow their businesses.

Industry leaders excited


“Boeing is excited to participate fully in the Dubai Airshow, the first major international airshow in almost two years, and to be able to engage directly with customers, partners, suppliers and other stakeholders from the region and beyond,” said Kuljit Ghata-Aura, president of Boeing Middle East, Turkey and Africa.

The show is a perfect opportunity to come together and remind the world of the importance of our industry, and discuss technology and innovations that are critical to advance a more sustainable aerospace industry over the long-term.

- Kuljit Ghata-Aura, president, Boeing Middle East, Turkey and Africa

Israel Aerospace Industries

Israel will be participating in the Dubai Airshow for the first time, a year after the Abraham Accords were signed between the UAE and Israel.

“IAI will present some of the latest and most advanced defence solutions, featuring the latest technologies in military aviation, air defence and missiles systems, unmanned systems, special mission aircraft, radars, and cyber technology,” said Boaz Levy, President & CEO of IAI.

“The Dubai Airshow offers the opportunity to further expand and build long-lasting strategic partnerships with our neighbouring nations as well as to collaborate with additional local defence companies and industries,” said Levy.

Mac Jee

This will be the first time the Brazilian defense group participates at the event.

“As a major exhibition for the civil and military aviation community, the Dubai Airshow is essential for an air force weapons systems specialist like Mac Jee,” said Simon Jeannot, chairman of Mac Jee Industria de Defesa.

“Mac Jee is looking forward to meeting its partners in the region and exploring new opportunities. For Mac Jee Brazil, the Dubai Airshow is the most important aviation show in the world,” said Jeannot.

Wizz Air

“It's probably one of the first real air shows coming out of the pandemic that's going to have broad attendance - I think it's exciting to see those back up and running because they are big industry events,” said Robert Carey, president of Wizz Air.

“I don't know if there'll be big announcements. I suspect both the manufacturers (Boeing and Airbus) will want to show some momentum coming out of the pandemic,” said Carey.

GDC Middle East

“The pandemic had an enormous impact on the aerospace industry, affecting manufacturing, airlines, airports, and defence companies. Taking part in the Dubai Airshow provides a deep understanding of the industry’s insights on the aerospace sector and landscape following the pandemic and the way to its recovery, as well as opens doors for new partnership opportunities,” said Muneer Bakhsh, CEO at GDC Middle East, a Saudi aerospace player.

Sustainability is key

Sustainability has emerged as a top agenda for airlines, particularly during the pandemic, as they face pressure from investors and activists. It mostly involves the reduction of carbon emissions by adopting more fuel-efficient aircraft and alternative fuels.

In a landmark move in October, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) approved a resolution for the global air transport industry to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The global aviation industry is responsible for around 2 per cent of all emissions – flights produced 915 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019.

“Sustainability will be the No. 1 agenda item and with that in mind I suspect that the focus will be on the aircraft manufacturers who will be making all sorts of claims about new aircraft and reduced emissions,” said John Grant, partner at Midas Aviation. “We might get to see some agreement between a major manufacturer and a large airline in the region to develop a partnership towards net-zero operations as soon as possible,” said Grant.

What is sustainable aviation fuel (SAF)?

SAF, produced from sustainable feedstock and very similar in its chemistry to traditional fossil jet fuel, is an attractive option for the aviation industry because it can help significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, the industry currently does not have the infrastructure required to produce and distribute vast quantities of the greener aviation fuel. However, initiatives like the one started by Abu Dhabi’s Etihad could be a step in the right direction.

The airline launched its first sustainable flight from London to Abu Dhabi last week. Etihad claims that the airplane is powered by 38 per cent sustainable aviation fuel and can reduce primary carbon emissions by 70 per cent.

According to recent media reports, major US airlines and Amazon’s aviation subsidiary are joining an effort to speed development and use of SAFs to decrease emissions in air transport.

The ‘Overture’ aircraft – produced by a Denver-based company called Boom and expected to carry passengers by 2029 – will bring back supersonic travel. But unlike its predecessor – the Concorde – it will have net-zero carbon emissions from day one by running on 100 per cent sustainable fuel.

Focus on smaller aircraft

Bigger may be better, but not in the context of the airline industry where carriers are looking to replace their wide-body fuel guzzlers with narrow-body jets. “To the extent there are sales, it is likely to be in the area of replacing older aircraft with smaller, more efficient ones,” said Andrew Charlton, an independent aviation analyst.


in potential savings likely if old planes are replaced by more efficient aircraft

In a recent report, Boeing said global airlines could achieve savings of $9 billion on fuel costs alone over the next 15-20 years if older airplanes are replaced by new, more efficient aircraft. For Middle East carriers, a change in the fleet will result in $3.5 billion in fuel savings and almost $6 billion in operating cost savings.

Narrow-body vs wide-body

The difference between narrow- and wide-body aircraft is the width of the fuselage – the tube-shaped aircraft body that houses the passengers, crew and cargo. A typical narrow-body plane has a diameter of 3-4 meters whereas a wide-body plane aircraft a diameter of 5-6 meters.

Due to their bigger fuselage, wide-body aircraft can seat more passengers. Narrow-body aircraft will have 3-6 seats per row with one aisle, while a wide-body aircraft can have up to 10 seats with two aisles.

Some popular narrow-body aircraft are the Boeing 737 and its latest variant, the Boeing 737 MAX. For Airbus, the A320 and its modern variants have been the best-selling aircraft. When it comes to wide-body planes, the Boeing 777, the Airbus A380, and the Boeing 747-8 are among the most well-known aircraft.

A rich history

The first air show in Dubai was held in 1986 under the name Arab Air. In 1989, it was renamed Dubai Airshow, where 200 companies took part, presenting 25 aircraft. In 2007, the Dubai Airshow rose to prominence among aviation events in terms of attendance, with more than 45,000 participants from 131 countries in attendance. That year 850 companies from 50 countries participated in the exhibition, with the total amount of signed contracts exceeding $100 billion. The exhibition showcased many different types of aircraft, more than 140 in total, from the giant A380 to small drones.

The 2011 edition of the event also broke records. The exhibition space occupied 326,000 square meters. More than 1,000 companies from 50 countries presented their products and services.

In 2019, the event wrapped up with a total of $54.5 billion in deals and record attendance. Of those sales, Emirates and Air Arabia alone accounted for $38.8 billion in deals (or 71 per cent). Emirates made aircraft orders worth a total of $24.8 billion at the event, while Air Arabia made an order for $14 billion.


worth of deals signed at the 2019 Dubai Airshow

Flying displays

No Dubai Airshow is complete without the gravity-defying feats carried out by stuntmen and pilots during the event.

Five teams will be participating in the displays this year:

Al Fursan

The UAE Air Force aerobatic display team flies seven Aermacchi MB-339A jet trainer aircraft, including one solo. The team has a total of 10 planes.

The aircraft are painted in black, gold, white, red and green colors and are equipped with smoke generators producing red, green, white and black smoke. The main colors of the paint scheme are black and gold representing the desert’s golden sands and the black oil that lies beneath it.

The Al Fursan team perform a colourful flypast Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Russian Knights

The Russian Air Force aerobatic display team flies Sukhoi SU-35S and SU-30SM fighters. The team normally uses four SU-30SM fighters for their demonstrations.

Saudi Hawks

The Royal Saudi Air Force aerobatic display team flies six BAE Hawk Mk 65 trainers painted in an all-green colour scheme with white trim. All aircraft are equipped with white, red, blue and green smoke generators.

Surya Kiran

The Indian Air Force’s first aerobatic team was first formed in 1982 on the occasion of the air force's golden jubilee anniversary. The team flew nine Hawker Hunter F56A fighters from No. 20 squadron, which were painted in overall dark blue with white trim.


This Indian Air Force aerobatic team flies on four Indian-built helicopters, the HAL Dhruvs. It was formed on March 18, 2002, as a part of Aircraft and System Testing Establishment (ASTE) at Bangalore. Its first public display was on February 23, 2004 during Asian Aerospace at Singapore.

Dubai is back

"As one of the world's most important aviation, tourism and trade hubs, we are once again hosting an important in-person event and returning to business normality. Through strategic planning, world-class measures and advanced technology, we have shown that we can overcome any challenge and these are the elements that are enabling us to host the Dubai Airshow," said Sheikh Ahmed.

Dubai Airshow timeline
Image Credit: Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News