DUBAI - Perennial foes Airbus (IW 1000/52) and Boeing (IW 500/14) get set for another skirmish at the Dubai Airshow Sunday, with the U.S. plane maker tipped to prevail as it unveils a new version of its bestseller 777.
The 13th edition of the Dubai Airshow, which runs through Thursday, is to be held in the just opened Al-Maktoum International, the Gulf emirate's second airport and touted to become the world's biggest once completed.
With about 150 aircraft set for show on the desert tarmac and with 1,000 exhibitors, the airshow cements the Gulf region's hard won position as the global hub for 21st century travel, spearheaded by booming airlines whose reach encompasses the world.
Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways -- the new generation of global airline players -- are aggressively expanding their fleets making the Dubai Air Show one of the "top tier events in the aviation industry," said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the Teal Group consultancy.
"The three big Gulf carriers are taking advantage of great geography, easy access to cash, and strong brand management to grow, largely at the expense of European and Asian legacy carriers," he said.
As ever, Airbus and Boeing will battle it out for orders in Dubai, but the latter will win out, said Christophe Menard, aeronautic expert at KelperCheuvreux investments house.
This year, Chicago-based Boeing will be launching the long-haul 777x, a lighter version of the classic 777 which has been an aviation bestseller since 1990.
The new-fangled 777 is meant to preempt the rise of the Airbus A350, a new fuel-efficient airliner that the European plane-maker hopes will help it become the world's biggest plane producer within four or five years.
"The 777x and A350XWB are exactly what the market wants," Aboulafia said, and "it's imperative that Boeing make a strong counter-attack."
The riposte by Boeing begins with Emirates Airline, whose chief executive Tim Clark told the Financial Times in October that his company intended to make a big order for the 777x, which the paper said could reach 175 units.
Prospects for Airbus Uncertain
The prospects for Airbus are less certain, said Menard, with all eyes on what happens next with its struggling A380, the jumbo airliner that has yet to receive an order this year.
Sales of the world's biggest commercial aircraft already suffered in 2012 after hairline cracks were discovered on A380 wings. Only nine planes were sold last year, down from an initial order of 30.
Airbus could also beef-up orders of its A350 or the A320neo, the lower fuel consuming medium-haul jet that has had a roaring success, notably with low-cost airlines.
The final airshow order book could beat records, said Jean-Louis Dropsy of Kurt Salmon consultancy, even the previous record set in Dubai in 2007 when sales reached $155 billion.
Dropsy said Boeing sales already expected this year would hit $80 to $100 billion, to which Airbus and private jet sales will then be added.
In June, the Paris airshow at Le Bourget racked up $115 billion in announced sales at catalog prices.
But piling up orders is not the Dubai Air Show's only priority, Dropsy said.
The Gulf emirate's home market is limited to two million people and the monarchs "use aviation as a major economic lever to develop trade and tourism, much like the railway once developed the towns it travelled through."
With the aim of luring the world to Dubai, the new airport hosting the airshow is situated in an economic zone the government hopes to turn into what it calls an "aerotropolis."
Dubai International, which remains the emirate's main airport, is already a major stop for air traffic between the West, Asia and Australasia. It handled 57 million passengers in 2012.
Delphine Touitou, AFP
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013