Bahrain Airshow 2016

The fourth edition of the biennial airshow hosted at the Sakhir Air Base was held over three days in January 2016. Again, a fairly good show similar to previous standards, which included the international debut of the HAL Tejas LCA from India. Unfortunately, several no-shows included the JF-17 Thunder from Pakistan (as at Dubai Airshow, again for unknown reasons), while the high profile cancellation of the Russian Knight team it seems can be put down to 'Mid East politics', as after staging to Iran they were then denied permission to proceed to Bahrain (according to reports)! Good static support from the US this year, though flying was limited to an Al Dhafra based F-22A each day. Unfortunately, the B-1B display had to cancel due to the detachment at Al Udeid returning Stateside at the time, for a planned six month pause in Mid East ops (for upgrade mods etc). Then, as usual with trade shows, the 'big news' on the order front this time was Gulf Air's restructured deal for their future fleet requirement. This includes the previous 2008 order for 24 B787-8's, being converted to 24 B787-9's, which will replace their A330's. 'Going Boeing' for the wide-body fleet, means previous orders with Airbus for 20 A330-300's and 10 A320neos, is now changed to 12 A320neos and 17 A321neos. Of their military, still no announcement on the possible Typhoon deal for the RBAF, so still a 'wait and see' situation there, although apparently 'it is expected' according to some of their crews...

Of the static then, civil highlights included the first appearance of local carrier Texel Air, with their latest B737-300SF A9C-APC. The fourth be be received by the cargo charter operator, this was delivered on 1st October. As another local operator, and one of the main sponsors of the show, DHL provided B767-200BDSF A9C-DHJ for the static, as well as a B757-200PCF each day for the flying display (A9C-DHC and A9C-DHE being involved), all featuring a large 'Bahrain International Airshow' logo. Then, of the regional carriers present, Kuwait Airways made their debut at the show, by sending one of their new A330-200's for a day, with 9K-APD then taking part in the flying display on the Thursday before continuing on straight back home. Of the others, Emirates brought two months old A380-800 A6-EOP (their 68th of 82 currently on order!), Qatar Airways sent their first A380-800 A7-APA, as well as A350-900 A7-ALG (also delivered in November), while Saudi Arabian Airlines brought their nice B777-300ER HZ-AK28 in a special 'Famous Landmarks' colours. Most interesting though, was the debut of SaudiGulf Airlines, with A320 HZ-SGA shown. Due to a regulatory delay in commencing services, their four A320's had been in storage during 2015, but were all then delivered by the end of the year, with approval to launch flights now expected by the end of March. Finally, Sukhoi returned with their Superjet, with SSJ-100 I-PDVZ painted in Interjet colours, prior to delivery. This followed similar I-PDVY's appearance at the recent Dubai show.

On to the biz-jets present this year, Comlux Aviation again showed their bahrain-based B767-200ER P4-CLA, Gulfstream brought G650 N650GA (the second 650 to use the reg, after the prototype), which will become N711SW for Wynn Aircraft, Qatar Executive brought new G650 A7-CGA (delivered to Doha on 12th December), while also delivered new in December was EMB-135BJ VP-CTB of UAE based Empire Aviation Group. A nice little selection, to be added to by extremely nice 'classic' A340-200 HZ-SKY1 of Alpha Star, which arrived after dark on the Wednesday night. Quite a surprise, this had only just been repainted into a new scheme and re-registered from HZ-A1. One of the oldest 'Dragsters' still flying (c/n 009), it's history includes being operated by the Brunei Government, before going on to the Jordanian Government (as JY-ABH).

Then as usual, quite a lot of interest with the military present this year, despite quite a few no-shows. Again, good representation from the 'home team', with the RBAF F-5E 686 of course a highlight in the static, along with the formation flypast of 3x F-5 and 3x F-16 that kicked off the flying displays. KSA and the UAE both attended this year, the Saudi's with Hawks display team, but unfortunately not the billed Typhoon. As well as their slightly re-named 'Al Emarat Fursan' team of MB-339NAT's (now also carrying their serial numbers on the nose wheel doors), the UAE also sent F-16E's 3040 and 3081, along with Mirage 2000-9's 725 and 752 for the flying display, plus UH-60M 2669 and Bell 407GX 2884. The US again showed good support, with a pair of Hornet CAG-Birds from the CVW-7 deployment aboard USS Harry S Truman (CVN 75) in the Gulf. As well as F/A-18F 166620/AG-200 of VFA-103 'Jolly Rogers' and F/A-18C 165202/AG-301 of VFA-83 'Rampagers', the Navy also sent two Bahrain based choppers, with MH-60S 168579/HW-73 of HSC-26 and MH-53E 164764/TB-06 of HM-15 'Blackhawks'. The Marines were well represented by four aircraft from their deployment aboard the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, with the embarked 26thMEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) in support of Operation 'Inherent Resolve' in the Gulf. Two AV-8B's 164121/YS-55 and 163874/YS-56, both marked as 'VMM-162REIN' (assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 162 Reinforced), were joined by two MV-22B's 168602/YS-06 and 168323/YS-14 from VMM-162. The USAF were represented by tiger marked F-15E 87-0208/MO from Mountain Home AFB, detached locally at Al Dhafra with the 380thAEW, while the Army brought CH-47F 04-08706 (unit marked 'Hercules' and named 'Gipsy Ranger'), which was reportedly Colorado based and on TDY in Kuwait. So, of the only US aircraft in the flying display, Hickam F-22A 04-4062/HH of the 199thFS, also on detachment with the 380thAEW at Al Dhafra, made an appearance every day, though unlike at the recent Dubai show, not a full display but just a single high-speed pass and vertical climb-out.

From the UK, Typhoon FGR4's ZJ932/DB and ZJ937/DT marked as 11(F)Sq were sent for the flying display, with RAF Typhoon Display Pilot, Flt Lt Jonny Dowen flying his final routine at the show on the 23rd. Then, as well as Navy Merlin HM2 ZH843 of 829NAS (marked 'HMS St Albans'), the RAF Museum again sent Spitfire PR19 PM651/X marked 'Bahrain', which was re-assembled prior to the show by local students. Finally, a good effort from the Indian AF this year (despite their EMB-145SM no-show), with their 'Sarang' Dhruv chopper display team and the pair of HAL Tejas LCA's sent, KH-2014 and KH-2017 (test aircraft LSP-04 and LSP-07). A big event for HAL and the IAF, to showcase the first home-grown Indian fighter outside the country for the very first time, with the two aircraft taken out of the test program and flown here via Muscat. As most reporters agreed, the aircraft put on a good powerfull display.

And so, making more of the event this time, visits were made on all three show days, as well as on the arrivals/practice day before, on Wed 20th. Also, with the show usually being quite relaxed with security etc, there was again no problem with staying on for night shots. A very nice plus here, that is very difficult to do at other shows. Then, returning for a second visit to the static on the Thursday morning (on show Day 1), we then moved to the West side to photograph the flying display. This has become a very popular spot, not just for the several thousand locals to watch the show, but also for the increasing numbers of photographers turning up now, for the ideal location with excellent afternoon light. With great shots possible here, return visits were then made on the second and third days of the show. Unfortunately, we now have a very long wait for the next event, as it has now been re-scheduled to be held on alternate years with the Dubai show, with 14-16th November 2018 now the next date on the calender.

Report by Kevin Perry for J7 Aviation Media, with many thanks to the Farnborough International PR team for their kind assistance with arranging the media access to the show.

All article images can be found in the respective Photo Jornal gallery.