Fighter jets and freighters in focus at the first major air show since the Covid pandemic


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Karim Sahib | AFP | Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Dubai’s last international air show, in November of 2019, feels like another era.

Just a few months before the Covid-19 pandemic turned travel upside down, the highly-attended biennial aviation event celebrated an industry that looks very different today. 

But nearly two years after the travel and airline industries came to a near standstill, the market is picking up again.    

The 2021 Dubai Air Show kicks off on Sunday, November 14. Here’s what to expect:

Travel industry recovery?

Supply chain issues

Cargo winning

Only one air traffic segment has gone above 2019 levels, and that’s cargo. 

People may have stopped traveling for a long period, but e-commerce and the movement of products has continued to grow. Before the pandemic, a significant volume of cargo was transported in the belly of passenger planes. But after those planes went offline as travel restrictions went up, says Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group, “all of a sudden people said, ‘Hey, we need dedicated cargo jets because that belly cargo isn’t available.'”

Expect to see Airbus and Boeing — the world’s two largest aerospace companies by revenue — display new large freighter versions of existing aircraft, Aboulafia said. 

“You’ll see Airbus talk about, maybe even launch, a freighter version of the A350 XWB jetliner,” he told CNBC.

“And you might see exactly the same thing from Boeing with the freighter version of the 777X, the latest version of the 777, which has composite wings and such. That’ll be really interesting to watch because the Gulf is a pretty big large cargo market.” 

Indeed, in Emirates Airline’s latest half-year earnings, cargo operations were robust, seeing a 39% increase and bringing the business to 90% of the volume it had in 2019.

Military sales

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