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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Dubai's biennial Air Show opened Sunday to a world still reeling from the pandemic and an aviation industry hard-hit by the coronavirus but finding its feet.
More than 100 American companies are exhibiting at the five-day air show, including defense giants Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies — parent of Collins Aerospace, Cedar Rapids’ largest employer.
Collins Aerospace announced on Monday plans to expand its aircraft communications addressing and reporting system, or ACARS, coverage on the Saudi Arabian Peninsula.
Taqnia Space, a Saudi Technology Development and Investment Company subsidiary, will oversee ground station deployment, the Cedar Rapids company said on its website.
The deployment improves the delivery of timely information between pilots and ground operations, among other benefits, the company said.
It also announced use of its Ground Flight Operations and Maintenance Exchanger by select Kuwait Airways aircraft. The exchanger enables “non-critical” messages to be routed through an internet protocol link, helping to reduce air traffic communication.
Collins Aerospace also showed off its work with Seeing Machine’s eye-tracking technology that it aims to build into its Pilot Support System product line. The goal is to better track pilot alertness through monitoring eye and pupil algorithms.
NEWS from @DubaiAirshow 📣: Cool tech alert! 🚨 We’re teaming up with @seeingmachines to use innovative eye and pupil tracking algorithms to sense a pilot’s level of fatigue. https://t.co/ggdsppJceJ#DAS21 #DubaiAirshow2021 #DubaiAirshow pic.twitter.com/kINLqxtsAk— Collins Aerospace (@CollinsAero) November 15, 2021
Boeing and Airbus traditionally have been the stars of the biennial aviation trade show, competing for multibillion-dollar Gulf-based airline purchases and hammering out final details minutes before back-to-back news conferences.
But this year, the exhibition in Dubai is expected to be more muted than in the past due to the subdued state of flying and travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rather, the air show's first day drew eyes toward defense and military hardware from countries such as Russia and Israel.
The day's blockbuster commercial deal by Airbus was a sale of 255 new aircraft to Indigo Partners' various low cost carriers. The agreement sees budget carriers Wizz Air purchase 102 new planes, U.S. Frontier with 91, Mexico’s Volaris with 39 and South American JetSmart with 23.
At Airbus' pre-pandemic list prices, the order would clock in at well above $30 billion. The company declined to provide any details on the sale price.
Airbus also secured an order for two additional A330 aerial refueling aircraft with the United Arab Emirates' Air Force, bringing to five the country's Airbus multi-role tanker transport fleet.
Visit us at booth #1160 @DubaiAirshow this week! When lives are on the line, proven performance means everything. Read more here: https://t.co/XZUnRKhS5x#DubaiAirshow #DubaiAirshow2021 #DAS21 pic.twitter.com/2cCKyFORtw— Collins Aerospace (@CollinsAero) November 15, 2021
The star on the tarmac outside the exhibition hall was Russia’s Checkmate fighter jet, which was shown to the news media in a custom-built hangar with a display of laser lights bouncing off a mirrored ceiling.
The jet, with a baseline $35 million price tag, is a less costly competitor to the U.S. F-35, which the UAE has been trying to acquire since formally recognizing Israel last year in a deal brokered by the Trump administration. That sale has slowed under U.S. President Joe Biden.
In a dramatic promotional video, the Checkmate soared through burnt orange skies, blasting away targets in the desert as music blared in the background and a thundering voiceover rattled off the plane’s features.
“We are committed to deepening and strengthening this vital strategic relationship,” said Sean Murphy, the U.S. Embassy's charge d’affaires.
At the opening of the U.S. pavilion, he also thanked the UAE for its help in the U.S.-led evacuations out of Afghanistan.
Boeing brought its new 777-9 passenger jet from Seattle in the longest flight to date for the aircraft as it undergoes continued tests and awaits regulatory approval.
Boeing says it will be the world’s largest and most efficient twin-engine jet.
The Middle East's largest carrier, Emirates, has ordered 126 of this 777X, but the Dubai-based airline has expressed frustration with delays around its delivery, which is not expected before late 2023.
Israeli companies displayed their hardware for the first time at the air show following Israel's normalization of diplomatic ties with the UAE last year.
The state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries company showed off a range of manned and unmanned naval and aerial drones.
Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems displayed its “drone dome” that detects and destroys drones with lasers. Emirati defense officials were seen asking about the range and weight of the anti-drone system at the Israeli pavilion.
With vaccine rollouts ongoing in many nations worldwide, the airline industry as a whole is recovering from last year's roughly $138 billion net loss.
Still, the industry continues to face losses this year and next. The International Air Transport Association forecasts a net loss of $11.6 billion for airlines in 2022, and nearly $52 billion in losses this year.
The Gazette contributed to this report.