Bahrain was placed under the aviation spotlight last week as the Gulf kingdom hosted its second international airshow, with over 42,000 people in attendance, comprising of more than 20,000 trade visitors and 22,000 members of the public. While the record-breaking total, as revealed by the event’s co-organisers Bahrain Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Farnborough International Limited (FIL), pales in comparison to more-established airshows in Dubai, Paris and Farnborough, there is a concerted effort for Bahrain to establish a more focused niche in the market by delivering “exclusive networking opportunities in a welcoming, intimate environment”, according to Amanda Stainer, FIL’s exhibitions and events director.
“In the prevailing economic downturn, when most airshows are rolling back their sleeves, Bahrain is going full steam ahead. The unique strength of this event is the calibre of attendees and the convivial atmosphere, which together create an environment highly conducive for forming and cementing quality relationships and cultivating potential for business,” she comments, adding that this year’s visitor numbers were around a third higher than the inaugural Bahrain International Airshow in 2010. “By building on the success of the inaugural event, we have strengthened our brand and continued the growth and future development of the airshow.”
Held at the large-scale Sakhir Airbase, custom-made for the airshow, the three-day event was inaugurated by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and attracted a total of 37 exhibitors from around the world, including global powerhouses such as Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier and Lockheed Martin. However, it was the kingdom’s homegrown aviation players that made the biggest noise, with contract announcements by the likes of Gulf Aviation Academy (GAA), Gulf Technics, Bahrain Airport Services (BAS), Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) and MENA Aerospace Enterprises, while brand new in-flight innovations were showcased by national carriers Gulf Air and Bahrain Air. The estimated value of deals signed at the airshow was US$850 million, a little less than 2010 numbers and dented by the fact that Gulf Air’s rumoured purchase of Bombardier CSeries aircraft failed to materialise.
“Bahrain International Airshow has already established itself on the international airshow circuit and the response from our participating companies has confirmed this position. We are delighted with reports that constructive and valuable meetings were once again facilitated and there are positive indications that further deals will be announced in the forthcoming weeks as a result of contacts made during the event,” Captain Abdulrahman Al Gaoud, senior member of the event’s organising committee and undersecretary for Bahrain CAA, told reporters. “The Bahrain economy also benefited greatly - hotels were full, car rental firms reported great business and tour operators had a field day - all thanks to this show, which has once again proved that Bahrain is the place to be for international events.”
Sakhir Airbase was the home to 84 aircraft during this year’s event, many of which were parked at the static display, including Airbus A320s from Gulf Air and Bahrain Air, in addition to a Boeing 777-300, 767-200 and 757-200, showcased by Qatar Airways, Comlux and DHL respectively. Unsurprisingly, the flying display was another major highlight, even with attempted sabotage by anti-government protesters, who burned tyres outside the venue to blacken the skies. Undeterred by the controversial move, visitors were treated to a show-stopping all-Bahraini formation flight with a Gulf Air A330, three Royal Bahraini Air Force F-5s and four F-16s. A Sukhoi Superjet 100 was also flown by United Aircraft Corporation, the Al Fursan aerobatic team made their first appearance outside of the UAE, and Dubai-based Emirates Airline landed one of its Airbus A380s, carrying a VIP delegation that included UAE prime minister His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Emirates Group chairman HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
The countdown has now commenced for Bahrain’s third international airshow, which already boasts an “extremely healthy” reservations book, according to Captain Al Gaoud, who states that many of this year’s exhibitors are planning to return in January 2014. To satisfy demand, the trade area will be 50 percent bigger, while expansions have also been earmarked for the public area and car park space. “Even with difficult times over the past year, we have been able to host a very successful show and everyone that took part is extremely happy,” he states. “A high percentage of the participating companies have expressed their commitment to return for the next airshow and one of our headline sponsors, Batelco, has signed a memorandum of understanding to continue with its sponsorship, which is undoubtedly a positive sign for the future.”