DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — U.S. companies that dominate global aviation are eyeing the Middle East's largest airshow in hopes of inking deals worth billions of dollars as the region's economies continue to expand on the backs of the industry.
The five-day Dubai Airshow, set to take place next week in the United Arab Emirates, has seen a slump in sales in recent years after peaking in 2007. That year, officials announced $155 billion worth of deals, making it the largest in the regional airshow's 26-year history.
At the last Dubai Airshow in 2011, the Dubai-based Emirates Airline placed an order for 50 Boeing 777-300ERs. The $18 billion order marked the largest in Chicago-based Boeing's history. However, the biennial event's lower overall sales of around $63 billion reflected a general downturn in global markets at the time.
This year, airshow CEO Sharief Fahmy said sales are expected to surge back to their highest levels six years ago. The event is organized by the London-based F&E Aerospace.
"Our order book right now is looking very healthy," Fahmy told The Associated Press. "In 2007, it was a kind of perfect storm that came together and we are seeing the makings of that perfect storm kind of coming together again."
The event's location, at the new Dubai World Central airport's grounds, reflects the Gulf Arab region's own rapid growth in the aviation industry. Dubai hopes the new airport will be the largest in the world and the most frequented transit hub, connecting European and Asian travelers.
In Dubai alone, aviation contributes to 28 percent of the city-state's gross domestic product, or about $22 billion. For a burgeoning and anxious generation of young Gulf Arabs, the growing aviation industry also offers hundreds of thousands of new jobs. In the Middle East, 40,000 pilots and 53,000 technicians will be needed in the next two decades to keep up with demand, according to a Boeing Co. forecast.
Fahmy, a 23-year U.S. Air Force veteran, worked for years in the U.S. Embassy in the Emirates, ratcheting up the government's sales of F-16s and missile programs to the region, as well as representing the U.S. in past Dubai airshows.
Wary of Iran, the U.S. has been building up the missile defenses of its allies in the region, with the sales of billions of dollars of weaponry to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the U.A.E.
"We built the forum for really all the big decision makers to come out and make the decisions about what's best for their militaries," Fahmy said. "The discussions that happen here and the deals that are made affect the lives or literally millions of people."
U.S. companies that have already sold to the region, such as Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing, will be at the Dubai Airshow. Those past deals have supported hundreds of thousands of jobs and have billions of dollars in annual economic impact in the U.S.
In a sign of just how important the trade show is for U.S. companies, Boeing is expected to announce multi-billion dollar sales of its long-range, twin-aisle 777X to multiple Gulf-based airlines. The 777X is meant to compete with the new Airbus A350. The European aerospace company is flight testing the aircraft now.
Officials at Boeing declined to comment on possible announcements at the show. It has said the new plane is expected to carry as many as 400 passengers and be 20 percent more fuel efficient than the current 777. Boeing aims to deliver the first one by the end of this decade.
AP Airlines Writer Freed reported from Minneapolis.