Commercial, Military, Products

Dubai Serves as Souk for Robust Middle East Helicopter Market

By By Douglas Nelms | November 1, 2012

UAE Sikorsky Black Hawk on display at the 2011 Dubai Airshow.

While much of the rest of the world worries about where its next meal is coming from, the petro-rich Middle East is still a robust market, particularly in the realm of military sales, according to Dan Darling, Middle East military markets analyst for Forecast International. 

For 2013 alone, the six states of the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC), plus Jordan, are expected to commit some $80 billion to military expenditures. The bulk of that will be Saudi Arabia, with $50 billion. Even smaller countries are making major commitments, with the UAE expected to spend $11 billion while Iraq will spend an estimated $15 billion. The GCC consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Jordan has been invited to join. 

The Bell 429 will be on display during Dubai Helishow 2012.

The military helicopter market is particular robust, with “virtually all of the GCC countries modernizing their military equipment, much of which was purchased in the ‘90s following the first gulf war,” Darling said.

“Some of those countries are still doing some fixed-wing fighter programs, but for the most part they’ve already gone in that direction and are moving to helicopter platforms.” Of particular interest are attack and transport helicopters, he said.

In just the first part of 2012, Qatar has requested an estimated $30 billion government-to-government sale of 24 Boeing AH-64D Block III Longbow Apaches and $2.5 billion for 10 Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawks and 12 MH-60S Seahawks. The Saudis had already requested 70 AH-64Ds and 72 UH-60M Black Hawks to help boost their National Guard. This explains why the biennial Dubai Helishow has become the major marketplace, or souk, for the helicopter industry serving the Middle East. Located in what has become the primary business hub for the region, the Helishow has now grown to be the world’s third largest international show for the helicopter industry, behind only HAI’s Heli-Expo and the UK’s Helitech.

With the first Dubai Helishow held in 2004, this is the fifth show in eight years, with a steady progression of growth as the importance of the show has become apparent. Exhibitors have increased by almost 40 percent, going from 80 in 2004 to 110 signed up so far this year. Visitors to the show are anticipated to be around 2,000, compared to 1,500 at the 2004 show.

The venue has also changed, moving from Dubai International Airport’s Exhibition Hall using 1,153 square meters (12,410 square feet) to a 1,660-square-meter (17,868-square-foot) space in the Grand Stand, Meydan Racecourse of Al Meydan City.


With military sales expected to be a major consideration in the Middle East, both Boeing and Sikorsky will have a presence at the show. Sikorsky signed a estimated $300-million order for 60 Black Hawks with the UAE Air Force at the 2010 show, and has arranged for one of the UH-60s to be on display in the aircraft park during this year’s event.

Boeing said it would not have an aircraft for display, but will have a booth with representatives there to talk to key members of Middle East militaries about its military programs. These include the AH-64D Apache, AH-6 light attack/reconnaissance helicopter, CH-47F Chinook and the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor.

With roughly 1,500 aging, daylight only, attack/reconnaissance helicopters worldwide that need to be replaced, Boeing is very actively promoting its AH-6i, according to Mike Burke, director of global strike rotorcraft. The AH-6i is the international version of the AH-6 and MD Helicopters MH-6 Little Bird.


Despite the emphasis on military sales in the Middle East, the civil side will be well represented to serve the growing market for commercial and personal helicopters.

Aerogulf, a leading commercial helicopter operator in Dubai for more than 36 years, will be displaying a Bell 212 and 206L as well as offering attendees discounted tours over Dubai during the show. A Bell 429 will also be on static display from Hawker Pacific, the Bell sales representative for the region. The 429 will be available for demonstration flights, said Alan Parsons, vice president of aircraft sales. Following the show, the 429 will be taken on a sales tour of the region. Hawker Pacific is a major repair station in Dubai for helicopter parts such as hydraulics and avionics; while a sister company, RBI Hawker, is an authorized rotor blade repair station.

Moscow-based Russian Helicopters will have a booth, while a Mil Mi-8MSB will be on display by Sharjah-based Motor Sich Middle East, representing the Ukrainian airline. 

FLIR system on display at the 2011 Dubai Airshow.

Enstrom Helicopters will participate for the first time at the 2012 show, displaying its 480B. Although a major manufacturer of helicopters for the civil market, ranging from personal to law enforcement to electronic newsgathering (ENG), Enstrom has also entered the military market with the 480B, selling it to the Royal Thai Army and Japanese Ground Self Defense Force. Dennis Martin, Enstrom’s international sales program manager, said that the success of the aircraft in the international market led to their decision to evaluate the Middle East. One aspect of selling to the Middle East military market is that they tend to overbuy when procuring a fleet of helicopters, “buying more than what they have an infrastructure or manpower to crew and maintain,” Darling said. “This makes it a better market for the producers, because they can provide aftermarket services. That is why everybody angles for this market, because there is no self-production, there is no offset agreements.”

When Qatar put in its request to the U.S. to purchase its 24 AH-64D Block III Longbow Apaches, it also asked for night vision goggles, AGM 114R Hellfire II missiles, Stinger missiles with launchers, 2.75-inch Hydra rockets, Apache aviator integrated helmets, training devices, simulators, support equipment, tools and test equipment, U.S. government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services, “and other related elements of logistics support.”

Orders such as this are, needless-to-say, major markets for parts and service providers. Joe Garland, vice president of international business development for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said that his company will be exhibiting “several of its internationally field Precision Engagement, Fire Control and Situation Awareness systems and solutions.” These include the Hellfire and direct attack guided rocket (DAGR) missiles, Arrowhead advance electro-optical fire control system, and electronics supporting Longbow system. 

Bell-Boeing V-22 flies past the Burj Al Arab in Dubai.

Arma-Global, based in Tampa, Fla., will also be promoting its MRO integration of spare parts, repairs, major overhauls, upgrades and maintenance. It also serves the military by providing solutions for the procurement, inspection, delivery and support of “numerous weapon systems and ammunition,” the company said.

FLIR Systems will be returning to the 2012 following a successful 2010 show, displaying its thermal imaging and stabilized EO/IR systems used for surveillance and reconnaissance, search and rescue, border and maritime patrol and—particularly for the military application—targeting, fire control and laser weapons designation programs.

The show will also see exhibitors promoting products for civil and paramilitary operations such as search and rescue, EMS, offshore operations and other areas.

One such company is Breeze-Eastern, an industry leader in the design, development, manufacture and product support of helicopter rescue hoists, cargo hooks, special application hoists and cargo winches, restraint systems, weapons handling and motion control devices for the aerospace, defense and commercial marketplaces. The company said it would be focusing on both the military and civil markets during the show, talking directly to governments, the OEM aircraft companies and the end users.

Training will also be emphasized during the show, with companies such as Bakersfield, Calif.-based SRT Helicopters and Emirates-CAE Flight Training in attendance. SRT Helicopters provides training from private pilot ratings up to certified flight instructor-instrument (CFII). They also offer recurrent and operational night vision goggles training.

Emirates-CAE is a joint venture between the Emirates Group and Canada’s CAE, offering both rotary and fixed-wing training. Helicopter training is conducted using a Bell 412 simulator.

Australia is represented at the show by Chopperline Flight Training Academy, which provides training in Robinson R22 and R44 trainers.

The Helishow will also provide a forum for conferences on “High-Rise Firefighting and Rescue,” and “Heli-borne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.” The first of these will look at emergency services first responders to fires in high-rise or mega-buildings, while the second will cover the effectiveness of manned and unmanned air assets operating in the airborne ISR role.

A totally new aspect of the show will be the ability of attendees to scan smartphones across QR codes for each exhibitor listed in the Show Guide and receive information on that exhibitor. Attendees will be able to download a free app provided by London-based Showcase to access the exhibitor information.

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