- More than $160 billion in orders by Gulf airlines agreed in first three hours
- Boeing and Airbus strike huge deals with region's big three -- Etihad, Emirates Qatar Airways
- Emirates signs $76B deal with Boeing for 150 of new wide-bodied 777X airliner
The biennial Dubai Airshow began Sunday with the Gulf region's major carriers announcing some of the biggest aviation deals in history.
There was as much speculation swirling around the size of the orders before the event as there was desert sand outside the nearby Al Maktoum airport.
However few predicted that $192.3 billion worth of deals for commercial jets (at list prices) would be announced on the first day -- a new record that has outstripped the orders from the entire 2007 airshow.
The region's three big players -- Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways -- announced orders for 393 new commercial planes. Boeing and Airbus shared the spoils, with high demand for the 777X, Boeing's next-generation version of the existing 777.
The Abu Dhabi based airline Etihad was the first to lay down a marker at the event: a $25.2B deal for 56 new wide-bodied Boeing aircraft, including 25 777X planes, 17 of the biggest 777-9X variants and eight of the 777-8X version.
"This order enables us to build upon our achievements, using the next generation of aircraft to support our next generation of development," said Etihad CEO James Hogan. "This order is for 2018 out to 2025/2030. The traffic is there."
Later Hogan trumped his Boeing order with an announcement for 87 Airbus jets worth $26.9B at list price, including 50 A350 aircraft, the twin-aisle competitor of the 777X currently in development.
The airline is also set to be the biggest operator of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with a new order for 30 of the new planes to add its current deal for 41 of the composite, medium to long-distance jets.
But it was Dubai's Emirates that revealed the largest order with a $76B deal for 150 Boeing 777X planes, plus an additional 50 Airbus A380s, worth $23 billion, to bring its order of the superjumbo up to 101. The airline currently operates 39 of the world's largest commercial jet.
Low-cost carrier FlyDubai committed to purchasing 111 Boeing 737 jets worth $11.4B.
Doha-based Qatar Airlines added to the impressive figures for Boeing's 777X with a $19B order for 50 of the aircraft. Lufthansa will be the forth "launch airline" to receive the new model jet when delivery begins from 2020 onwards. It has 34 on order.
The aircraft is the latest iteration of the company's 777 series and will be manufactured with all new composite material wings. With a wingspan of 71 meters, the 777-9X is greater than the 747-800.
"With around $100B worth of orders, this makes it the largest aviation product launch," said Boeing Chairman and CEO Jim McNeary. "We look forward to ... continuing to support Dubai's expansion into a global aviation hub."
Finding room for the new aircraft in Dubai should not be a problem as the Al-Maktoum airport is the city's second international hub and predicted to be the world's largest when completed. Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum was at the show and supportive of the new airport and mega deals.
"We cannot operate from one airport with all these planes," he told CNN's John Defterios after the Emirate's announcement.
"The passengers are growing so much and a lot of people are coming and going from here to America, to Europe and Asia. So Emirates has to be strong and so does FlyDubai."
Hogan predicts passenger numbers for Etihad to grow by 14% annually for the next five years, while Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, Emirates' CEO, believes the numbers will come as more countries open up.
"We don't want anything below double digital growth in passenger numbers," he said. "Some countries may be scared (to open up their markets), but they really have to open up."