Boeing groundings to dominate industry summit in Dubai

Emirates, the region’s biggest airline, is looking at reducing an order for the delayed Boeing 777X in the wake of safety concerns. (Reuters)
Updated 15 November 2019

Boeing groundings to dominate industry summit in Dubai

  • The biennial civil and military expo is a major showcase for wares from jumbo jets to military drones

DUBAI: An eight-month crisis over the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX jets and widespread industrial delays are setting an unpredictable backdrop to next week’s Dubai Airshow, with some airlines reviewing fleet plans even as others look for bargains.

The biennial civil and military expo is a major showcase for wares from jumbo jets to military drones but faces growing questions over demand and the capability of overstretched suppliers, delegates arriving for the Nov. 17-21 event said.

Top of their agenda will be the worldwide grounding of the 737 MAX in the wake of two deadly crashes.

Investors who have pushed up Boeing shares believe the planemaker is turning a corner after the eight-month grounding, with the company predicting commercial flights in January. But it also faces a logjam of undelivered jets that could take two years to unwind.

State-owned flydubai expects its fleet will now shrink by a third this year, highlighting the cost of the grounding for the biggest MAX customer outside the US.

“Flydubai has very big ambitions. Given the scale of those ambitions, there is little they can do but wait and watch, like everyone else,” said Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia.

Boeing lost one potential MAX customer earlier this year as Saudi budget airline flyadeal ditched a provisional order.

Experts say airline frustrations with plane and engine makers could also disrupt plans by the world’s largest jetmakers pushing for order endorsements.

The Middle East’s largest aerospace event will give Airbus and Boeing a chance to sit with some of their top customers who have threatened to walk from billions in deals.

The planemakers are struggling to deliver aircraft on time, forcing airlines to delay expansion plans, while engines on some jets are causing issues for carriers.

“This seems to be a systemic issue across the board,” said Novus Aviation Capital Managing Director Mounir Kuzbari.

“As a result, we see stress on the relationship between airlines and the plane and engine makers.”

Dubai’s Emirates, by far the region’s biggest airline, has issued a stern warning to plane and engine makers. It will no longer take delivery of aircraft that do not meet performance expectations, raising doubts over $35 billion in pending orders.

Airbus, Boeing and engine makers will be looking to allay concerns as they finalize aircraft sales with Emirates, which is also looking at reducing an order for the delayed Boeing 777X.

Airbus is seen close to a final order for A330neo and A350 jets while Boeing aims to salvage a provisional order for 787s.

Air Arabia could, however, steal the show with a planned order of up to 120 Airbus jets, industry sources say.

Kuwait’s Jazeera Airways is in negotiations with Airbus and Boeing for around two dozen aircraft.

Past editions of Dubai’s premier trade event have featured blockbuster deals, often led by Emirates, as Gulf carriers redrew the aviation map around their “super-connector” hubs.

But the Gulf hub model is increasingly under pressure as the once-rapid growth of the region’s biggest airlines slows.

“The market continues to be weak for all airlines in the region, and  we expect to see a further 2-3 percent reduction in passenger numbers for the full year,” Diogenis Papiomytis, Frost & Sullivan’s global program director for commercial aviation, said.

Middle East military leaders touring the displays will try to gauge whether they are on the cusp of another regional splurge on weapons following an escalation in Gulf tensions.

A series of attacks over the summer has highlighted potential security gaps among some of the world’s leading defense spenders who now increasingly buy from China and Russia. 


Tanker off UAE sought by US over Iran sanctions ‘hijacked’

Updated 16 July 2020

Tanker off UAE sought by US over Iran sanctions ‘hijacked’

  • The circumstances of the hijack are still unclear and the boat has been tracked to Iranian waters

DUBAI: An oil tanker sought by the US over allegedly circumventing sanctions on Iran was hijacked on July 5 off the coast of the UAE, a seafarers organization said Wednesday.

Satellite photos showed the vessel in Iranian waters on Tuesday and two of its sailors remained in the Iranian capital.

It wasn’t immediately clear what happened aboard the Dominica-flagged MT Gulf Sky, though its reported hijacking comes after months of tensions between Iran and the US

David Hammond, the CEO of the United Kingdom-based group Human Rights at Sea, said he took a witness statement from the captain of the MT Gulf Sky, confirming the ship had been hijacked.

Hammond said that 26 of the Indian sailors on board had made it back to India, while two remained in Tehran, without elaborating.

“We are delighted to hear that the crew are safe and well, which has been our fundamental concern from the outset,” Hammond told The Associated Press.

Hammond said that he had no other details about the vessel.

TankerTrackers.com, a website tracking the oil trade at sea, said it saw the vessel in satellite photos on Tuesday in Iranian waters off Hormuz Island. 

Hormuz Island, near the port city of Bandar Abbas, is some 190 kilometers (120 miles) north of Khorfakkan, a city on the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates where the vessel had been for months.

The Emirati government, the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet did not respond to requests for comment. Iranian state media did not immediately report on the vessel and Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In May, the US Justice Department filed criminal charges against two Iranians, accusing them of trying to launder some $12 million to purchase the tanker, at that time named the MT Nautica, through a series of front companies. 

The vessel then took on Iranian oil from Kharg Island to sell abroad, the US government said.

Court documents allege the scheme involved the Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which is its elite expeditionary unit, as well as Iran’s national oil and tanker companies. The two men charged, one of whom also has an Iraqi passport, remain at large.

“Because a US bank froze the funds related to the sale of the vessel, the seller never received payment,” the Justice Department said. “As a result, the seller instituted a civil action in the UAE to recover the vessel.”

That civil action was believed to be still pending, raising questions of how the tanker sailed away from the Emirates after being seized by authorities there.

Data from the MT Gulf Sky’s Automatic Identification System tracker shows it had been turned off around 4:30 a.m. on July 5, according to ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com. Ships are supposed to keep their AIS trackers on, but Iranian vessels routinely turn theirs off to mask their movements.

Meanwhile, the 28 Indian sailors on board the vessel found themselves stuck on board without pay for months, according to the International Labor Organization. It filed a report saying the vessel and its sailors had been abandoned by its owners since March off Khorfakkan. The ILO did not respond to a request for comment.

As tensions between Iran and the US heated up last year, tankers plying the waters of the Mideast became targets, particularly near the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the Arabian Gulf’s narrow mouth through which 20 percent of all oil passes. Suspected limpet mine attacks the US blamed on Iran targeted several tankers. Iran denied being involved, though it did seize several tankers.