Gulf airlines splashed out on well over $100 billion of orders on day one of the Dubai Airshow, underscoring a shift in power in the aviation industry and giving a boost to the formal launch of Boeing's newest jet, as well as to Airbus's A380 superjumbo.
Under hazy skies, Sheikhs and ruling family members of Dubai and neighbouring Abu Dhabi toured rows of passenger jets and arms pavilions at the new 645,000 square metre venue, built to showcase the Middle East's largest aviation hub.
Dubai-based Emirates led the buying spree on Sunday with an order for 150 of Boeing's new 777 mini-jumbo, in a deal worth $76 billion at list prices. It also ordered 50 Airbus A380s, the world's biggest passenger plane, worth $23 billion.
With demand from Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways as well, Boeing announced commitments for a total of 259 of the new 777 jet, previously codenamed 777X, worth about $100 billion at list prices - the largest combined order in its history.
"The response to the 777X has been astounding," Boeing Chairman James McNerney said at a packed news conference to officially launch the new plane, in front of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
Gulf airlines are competing with each other for a share of traffic flooding through the region, due to its strategic location between East and West, and with many recession-hit European airlines strapped for cash, their business is becoming increasingly important to Boeing and Airbus.
The revamped 777 marks a new front in the battle between the two aircraft manufacturers that dominate the civil aviation industry. Boeing's new plane is aimed at heading off competition from the largest version of Airbus's A350 in the mini-jumbo market that drives growth and connectivity between continents.
Boeing's top planemaking official pledged not to let a dispute with Seattle assembly workers over where the plane should be built interfere with its launch, which kicked off the Nov. 17-21 Dubai show.
The US group is looking for a home for the new jet after members of the International Association of Machinists rejected a proposed contract that would have seen Boeing commit to keeping the latest member of the 777 series near Seattle in exchange for restructured benefits.
BOOST FOR THE A380
Airbus, which has a record of springing surprises at air shows, is keen to prevent a smooth lift-off for the new 777 and is negotiating deals for all sizes of its jets.
"Airbus is desperate to