The first Middle East air show focused entirely upon the helicopter industry was held Dec. 6-9, 2004 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
With some 80 exhibitors and 2,500 attendees from 20 countries, the Dubai HeliShow International Helicopter Technology and Operations Exhibition was small compared to the biennial Dubai Air Show held in odd number years. However, the purpose of the show was to invite only people specifically involved in the helicopter industry, according to Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Dubai's minister of civil aviation.
While attendance at the first helicopter show was somewhat small, he noted that "the first show is always small," including the first Dubai Air Show, held in 1987 in an Emirates Airlines maintenance hangar.
The sheikh said the show's organizers are confident the show will grow, in part because of building programs such as The Palms and The World, two massive projects to create islands just off shore in the Persian Gulf for very high-end homes for the rich and famous.
"The World, for example, will not be connected to land," he said. "It can only be reached by aircraft or boat." This should create a demand for more personal or corporate helicopters and attract more helicopter companies to Dubai or the other emirates. He added that more tourists are expected to start using helicopters, with a new company already starting up in Dubai. "They are telling me that there are some tourists who want to use their services out of Burj al Arab (a seven-star hotel in Dubai) because there is a helipad there where they could pick up people and fly them around the city."
Dubai has now become the economic hub of the Middle East, the equivalent of New York, London and Hong Kong as a financial center. Unfortunately, as with those cities, its ground transportation infrastructure is not keeping up with the population growth, which is increasing demand for corporate helicopters to transport executives and VIPs throughout the rapidly growing city.
Dubai is also becoming a prime location for the film industry, with helicopter charter companies such as AeroGulf providing helicopters for both commercials and feature films, he said.
Although helicopter operations in the Middle East traditionally have been military-oriented, the Dubai HeliShow was roughly 60 percent civil and 40 percent military, a reflection of the rapidly growing civil market.
Mohamed Al Mohannadi, general manager for Doha, Qatar-based Gulf Helicopters, said that company, which started in 1970 with two helicopters, has now grown to 24. He said the company expects to continue growing at 10 percent, with the addition of two to three new helicopters, each year. This is expected to eventually double the company's fleet to 40-50 aircraft, he said. The fleet now consists of 24 Bell aircraft--six 212s, 15 412s, two 206s and one 230. Gulf Helicopter leases helicopters under dry or wet-lease contracts, primarily for the oil and gas industry.
A key to Gulf Helicopter's growth is expansion not only throughout the Middle East, but into Europe and the Asian sub-continent, Mohamed said. Initially operating only in its home base in Qatar, Gulf Helicopter now has operations in India, North Africa and Spain. The Spanish contracts are dry leases for firefighting.
Gulf Helicopter made the only big announcement at the show, an agreement with CAE-Emirates Training for training in that company's new 212/412 simulator.
Abu Dhabi Aviation also provides helicopters under lease for the oil and gas industry, operating a fleet of 37 Bell 412s, 212s and 206s. Peter Harris, chief engineer for Abu Dhabi, said that company also has contracts throughout the Gulf region and Europe, "the same as Gulf Helicopters, but with a larger fleet." He said Abu Dhabi is also growing at about 10 percent a year, a trend that is helped by an increasing number of ad hoc corporate and VIP charters as well as charters for heavy-lift operations.
The Dubai HeliShow lasted four days, which was about a day too long, according to most exhibitors. As a result, the next Dubai HeliShow has been scheduled for three days, Dec. 5-7, 2006. The show for 2008 has already been scheduled, and future shows will be held in alternating years with the Dubai Air Show.