The Bahrain International Airshow is the fastest-growing event of its kind in the region and delivers one of the most exciting and varied air displays on the circuit with more than 100 aircraft taking part.
The sky above the Sakhir Airbase in Bahrain will be witness to one of the world’s best aviation displays as the fifth biennial Bahrain International Airshow (BIAS) takes off on November 14 for three days, promising to be the biggest and most successful show yet.
Although one of the Middle East’s youngest shows in a crowded events calendar, in just eight years BIAS has seen major expansion making it the fastest-growing show in the region.
Held under the patronage of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa under the supervision HH Shaikh Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Chairman of the BIAS Supreme Organising Committee and personal representative to His Majesty the King, BIAS occupies a strategic position on the global aerospace calendar with more than 110 aircraft expected to be flying and on static display.
The show is organised by Bahrain’s Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications in association with Farnborough International.
In an exclusive interview with Arabian Knight, Engineer Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed, Bahrain’s Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications, says: “Bahrain International Airshow has seen incredible growth since the first event in 2010. Our objective was to create a platform for value-added business engagement. We built a custom-made facility at the Sakhir Airbase providing a world-class commercial environment with luxury turn-key chalets that enable exhibitors to host clients and invited delegations.
“The first show was a great success and it gave us the confidence to build and expand the show further. In 2014, we introduced an exhibition hall; this has grown exponentially and this year will occupy the entire hangar at the Sakhir Airbase,” says Eng Mohammed.
Exhibitor numbers are up by 70 per cent this year compared with the previous show and the exhibition hall has doubled in size and a majority of the world’s leading and most influential organisations will be there at the show. There are also four new country pavilions including those of the US and Russia.
The air show delivers one of the most exciting and varied air displays on the circuit. As well as fast jets and the very latest in business and civil aviation, the show will also feature aerobatic flying displays, some new to the event.
“BIAS 2018 will bring international business and senior government figures from across the region together in one location. It will be our most engaging and diverse yet with a packed schedule of events including a three-day delegation programme, a focused conference programme and an insightful exhibition showcasing the latest in technology and innovation,” continues Eng Mohammed.
The show has received tremendous response this time from aviation sector majors with 11 of the top 15 aerospace companies globally participating. “We are proud to have many repeat clients such as BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin who continue to participate in each edition of the show, which is a testament to the importance of Bahrain to them,” says Eng Mohammed, giving details of the show.
“This year, we are also welcoming companies who are increasing their participation based on their positive experience in previous editions of the show. For example, Bahrain-based TexelAir has now taken a chalet at the show after successfully exhibiting at the show in 2016.”
The show has attracted a large number of international companies with the Middle East being an aviation hub. “As many as 77 per cent of our exhibitors are international with Middle East companies forming a large part of that. Companies from the UAE, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are all participating at the show,” reveals the minister.
The UAE is occupying a large pavilion at the show offering smaller businesses the opportunity to participate. In addition, Saudi Arabia will have its largest-ever presence with a dedicated space that will include many companies.
From the business aviation segment, major names such as Gulfstream, Bombardier and Embraer are participating in the show. “Their presence at the show just a few weeks before MEBAA in Dubai demonstrates that business aviation is a strong sector for the region,” says Eng Mohammed.
Providing some interesting statistics to highlight the rapid growth of the show, Eng Mohammed quotes an independent study which said that since its inception, the show has seen a 60 percent increase in company participation and 75 per cent growth in visitor numbers. The value of the show to the Bahrain economy has increased by 90 per cent since the first show and deals announced at the BIAS in 2016 were valued at $9 billion, an increase of $8 billion since 2010.
On the sectors represented at the show, he says: “Our exhibitors work in all sectors of the industry, from commercial through to defence, and we provide a platform and backdrop for them to showcase all their capabilities.”
Speaking on the importance of the show, the minister says Bahrain and the Middle East are a strategic stepping stone from West to East, with increasing commercial air traffic. “Bahrain’s airport development is a reflection of this and the Bahrain International Airshow is a unique platform to identify new business opportunities in the aerospace sector, be it MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul), cargo and logistics, or business aviation.
“The show is particularly attractive to the larger international aviation companies who value Bahrain’s geographic position to access the larger regional market, most importantly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he continues.
“Bahrain is also a strategically important location from a military point of view with both British and US presence here. Our partnership with the Royal Bahraini Air Force is especially important for this event, as they are hosting the Manama Air Power Symposium alongside the Bahrain International Airshow, and will be welcoming air force chiefs and other senior government figures to the show, the minister says.
Listing the highlights and innovative features of the show, the minister says the show prides itself on offering custom-built platforms for networking and business generation.
Working in conjunction with Farnborough International, BIAS has developed a reputation for delivering a first-class delegations programme and this sets it apart from other air shows, he adds.
“Our comprehensive military and commercial delegations programme enable participants to meet face-to-face with senior industry and government representatives who have been invited by Bahrain. We hosted 92 civil and military delegations and more than 139 companies from the international aviation industry in 2016, and a similar number has been invited to attend BIAS in 2018,” the minister confirms.
In a bid to offer even more opportunities for air show participants, BIAS is launching a knowledge theatre. Organised in conjunction with FINN – the Farnborough International News Network – a dedicated area of the exhibition floor will be provided to the theatre that will enable exhibitors to share their knowledge and experiences in a free-to-attend, open-floor environment.
“The show would not be complete without its static aircraft and flying display and the 2018 event will not fail to disappoint. An estimated 110 aircraft are anticipated to take part, showcasing the very latest commercial and military aircraft from our participants. In addition, we also have an impressive line-up of aerobatic teams confirmed for the show, including the Global Stars Aerobatic display team, the Black Falcons parachute team, Russian Knights display team and the UAE’s Al Fursan,” he says.
Eng Mohammed does not view other shows in the region as competition but as a reflection of the growing regional aviation market.
“The increase in the number of air shows demonstrates the strength of the market in the region. The Middle East has a centuries-long tradition as a stepping stone between the East and the West and the aviation industry in the region is capitalising on this. Equally, short-haul travel is increasing with more people travelling across the region for business and tourism.
“Greater competition means it is important this event continues to grow and innovate, and deliver the best opportunities for the participants to develop their business, be this through good-quality networking events, insightful conferences or relevant exhibitors,” he adds.
Bahrain is a regional pioneer in aviation and offers various investment opportunities to firms in this sector. Explaining the kingdom’s aviation strategy, the minister says: “The Bahraini Government strives to take a holistic approach in ensuring the kingdom is an attractive place to do business. Our long history as a strategic hub and gateway to the Gulf is a major advantage. With efficient and cost-effective pan-GCC transport links, and direct access to Saudi Arabia, our market access is unparalleled.
“The kingdom continues to invest in its infrastructure to ensure it remains a leading transport and logistics hub. These include the Airport Modernization Programme (AMP) – the first phase of which is due for completion next year – and the GCC Railway,” he adds.
“The Economic Development Board is tasked with enabling foreign investment to Bahrain and we are recognised internationally as being business-friendly with an agile government that comes together to problem-solve and support the business environment, ensuring companies thrive. For example, running your business in Bahrain costs considerably less than other parts of the region. We’re also fast to adapt our regulatory environment to ensure the kingdom remains competitive.
“As a passenger and logistics hub, we have strong expectations for the aviation sector in the Kingdom of Bahrain,” reiterates Eng Mohammed.
Detailing the new aviation infrastructure work under way in Bahrain, he says the ministry has developed a master plan for the airport and the aviation sector in Bahrain. A $1.1-billion investment was injected in the Airport Modernization Programme which will satisfy the traffic growth in Bahrain till 2035.
“Our Airport Modernization Program will see the airport’s capacity increase to accommodate 14 million passengers and 130,000 air traffic movements per year. It will also make a strategic contribution to the kingdom’s cargo sector, enabling to capitalise on increasing demand driven through growth in e-commerce.”
The major new infrastructure facilities include a 210,000-sq-m main passenger terminal building, a new jet fuel farm and hydrant system and a central utility complex. The AMP will also increase the number of parking spaces available, adding a new multi-storey car-park to offer a total capacity of 6,000 parking spaces for passengers and visitors.
“The new airport is the first step in our ambitious plan to service the growing demand for air travel in the region. The new development will enable other areas of the industry to grow. More aircraft travelling through Bahrain will attract other aerospace-related services from MRO and cargo, to new airlines, new routes and destinations,” he further adds.
The ministry is also currently engaged in developing a number of strategic projects that would enhance the air traffic control infrastructure and enable it to provide a better service to its customers. In this respect, the ministry has started the process to build a $6.3-million new area control centre, $10.6-million upgrade of the runway operations to CATIII and build a new radio transmitter/receiver station at a cost of $3.9 million.
Asked how Bahrain is preparing itself to incorporate the new technologies in the aviation and transport sectors, Eng Mohammed says the ministry has allocated a $10.6-million budget for the new equipment and technology to be used in the new area control centre. This equipment will include the latest technology in voice switching system, radar displays, short-term conflict alert and safety enhancement features.
“We are also investing in state-of-the-art ICT infrastructure as part of the AMP to improve passenger convenience, safety and security and to increase efficiency,” he continues.
Eng Mohammed is proud of the fact that Bahrain has a highly-skilled workforce in the aviation sector. “We are very proud to have an industry that is run and operated mainly by Bahrainis. At the ministry, we have a team of highly qualified air traffic controllers, for example, and continue to invest in the development of the next generation of engineers and aviation professionals. We are proud that a number of Bahrainis have been recruited by neighbouring airports, testifying to the quality and skill of Bahrainis.
“Learning and development are key and there is a huge amount of investment to ensure that all areas of the workforce are fully trained. For example, to support the Airport Modernisation Programme, the Bahrain Airport Company has developed a training and development programme in conjunction with Tamkeen.
“The Bahrain International Airshow is inviting university students to attend the show to enable them to increase their understanding of the industry and explore potential career opportunities in aerospace. Whether it’s engineering or training to become a pilot, we hope that they will be inspired by the wealth of insight presented to them at the show,” he concludes.
– By Sree Bhat
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