Abu Dhabi Air Expo March 2013
The second Air Expo was held at Al Bateen airport in Abu Dhabi, UAE in early March, following last year’s succesful inaugural event. Similar in style to Dubai’s MEBA (Middle East Business Aviation) show, the organizers of the Expo try to emphasize a different ‘general aviation’ theme. Maybe as an attempt to appear different, and not a rival show to MEBA, in reality both are very similar with around 90% business jets and 10% light aircraft and helicopters. Though a smaller, growing event, most of the major players support the three day show, being in their hugely important Middle East market region, with Airbus Corporate Jets, Boeing Business Jets, Bombardier, Embraer, Falcon and Gulfstream all well represented, along with some of the major based and local VIP charter companies.
Al Bateen was the original airport for Abu Dhabi, built in 1960, until the current international airport was opened in 1982. Continuing as a military base, the airport was then taken over by ADAC in 2008 and re-branded as ‘the first dedicated private jet airport in the MENA region’ (although the military still remain), with an upgrade and FBO facilities built etc. After 20 years, limited passenger flights have returned, with executive outfit Rotana Jet diversifying into the market as a small local carrier and charter operator, offering domestic services around the UAE (and now further afield), including flights from Al Bateen using two ERJ-145’s.
From an enthusiast’s point of view, the show is another chance to see and photograph at another Middle East airport, which is otherwise difficult to do. Al Bateen is particularly interesting, as in addition to the executive FBO’s now here, handling most biz-jet movements for Abu Dhabi, it has much more to offer. The military presence is very evident, with the UAE Air Force and Navy having several based units, while the Italian AF have a staging base here. Although the UAE Air Force have built a new, large facility at the main Abu Dhabi International for their new transports (the C-17A’s & C-130J’s), the older C-130H’s and ex civil L-100-30’s of 4 Squadron remain here, along with the CN-235M’s (‘Casa Squadron’), P-180 Avanti’s and AW-139’s of the JHF (Joint Headquaters Flight). Also, the UAE Navy have their base here, with AS332B & AS332M Puma’s and AS565SB Panthers, while the Abu Dhabi Police have a few of their AW-139’s and Bell 412EP based. The first Expo featured an example of the Avanti and Police AW-139 in the static, but nothing this year from the resident units.
The Italian AF have had a presence here for several years, since around May 2011, using the airport as a staging post for flights from/to Italy and Afghanistan, using C-130J’s and KC-767A’s. ‘Task Force Air - Al Bateen’ is therefore an important part of the Italian contribution, providing logistical support for equipment and personnel transfer for operation ‘Enduring Freedom’. Finally, Falcon Aviation Services have their base here, with a fleet of helicopters including Bell 412EP’s operating offshore flights, as well as charter flights with EC130B’s and other types. Naturally, the company usually participates in the Expo static display, with a few choppers along with one of their EMB-135BJ Legacy’s.
All this makes the airport quite a busy, interesting place, with some of the other ramps visible close by, from the fence around the show area. Thankfully, the fence is quite ‘photo friendly’ with large gaps and thin wire being very easy to photograph through, with the single runway quite close, and the taxiway even closer. Also, directly outside the fence is the temporary parking area, mostly used by any aircraft being handled by the FBO’s during the show, including any visiting biz-jets etc. So, as well as the show aircraft, the resident and visiting aircraft certainly make this place well worth a visit, with very good photo opportunities (the sun being behind you for most of the day). Following a day trip to last year’s inaugural Air Expo, i had planned for all three days at this year’s show.
DAY 1 TUESDAY 5TH MARCH
Flying Etihad from Bahrain, our A319 had plenty of room with a total of 17 passengers on board! However, early morning fog meant a hold for around 45 minutes, before we could commence the approach to Abu Dhabi. There was no sign of it on landing though, with the next three days going to be very hot with perfect blue skies and visibility. Parking for the short haul stuff is away from the terminal, on a ramp near to the maintence area, where there are usually a few interesting things present. Ex Gulf Air A340 A9C-LH is currently stored here, painted in white Hellenic Airways colours (although the deal fell through, with SX-TIG ntu), while an RAF Tristar was also present, presumably for a check. If so, this may well be one of the last, with the type due for retirement in just over a year’s time. One advantage of getting the shuttle bus to the terminal is the chance for a few quick shots, with Etihad’s special all black ‘Formula 1’ A320 A6-EIB parked on the next stand looking sweet in the sun. From here, it was on to the hotel for a bag drop, before the short distance to the Air Expo.
After receiving the three day pass, and heading out to the show ramp, the highlight of the Expo soon became apparent, among quite a few very nice aircraft present. Gulfstream 650 demonstrator N650PH was making the type’s first international airshow appearances, taking it around the world, firstly via Hawaii to the Avalon Airshow in Australia, before flying direct here on the 4th. Gulfstream’s new flagship is now the fastest commercial aircraft, with a top speed of Mach 0.925, and set a new record of 13.05 hours when arriving direct from Melbourne (at an average of Mach 0.87 for the 11,721 km flight). Following the type’s certifications in September, this aircraft (6013) was shown at the NBAA at Orlando Exec in October, before being one of the first deliveries around the end of the year, flying to Fort Lauderdale Exec with test reg N613GD for Universal Jet Aviation. However, it then returned to Savannah, being leased back by Gulfstream for use as a company demonstrator for up to nine months. Somewhat overshadowed now is the Gulfstream 550, with company demonstrator N550GD parked behind the new boy getting all the attention. This had arrived direct from Savannah on the 3rd, after an even longer flight of 13.31 hours. Following the 650 from Avalon was company Gulfstream 280 demonstrator N280GD, arriving today via Seletar, Singapore for a short visit ‘outside the fence’, before heading off again (presumably after a crew change). Another first of type then.
Other show highlights included the very nice three month old Slovenian Global Express 6000 S5-ZFL of ElitAvia, painted in an interesting scheme of off-white with a metallic turquoise cheatline at the rear, which changes into leaves, decreasing in quantity towards the front. Quite unusual. More familiar was Qatar Executive Global Express 5000 A7-CEE, which left after the second day of the show. The Dassault range was represented by Falcon 900LX demonstrator F-GLYD, along with Dasnair Falcon 2000LX HB-JET and Saudia Private Aviation Falcon 7X HZ-SPAJ. This was also displayed here last year, one week after delivery, and was now featuring a smashed right wingtip navigation light (someone’s in trouble!). Other biz was Saudi-based Cessna 525C N5254C of Wallan Aviation, Learjet 60 VP-CCD of Solidline AG (ex OH-VMF), while Embraer brought demonstrators Phenom 300 PT-TOH, Legacy 650 PT-TFT and Lineage 1000 PP-XTF. This is in Al Jaber Aviation colours, but with the company logo and ex registration A6-DWB blanked out. The company operates two others, but returned this one after being unhappy with it. Apparently a shower was fitted to this aircraft, but the subsequent reduction in range meant it wasn’t being chartered! Finally with Embraer, was based Falcon Aviation Services EMB-135BJ A6-FLL and Rotana Jet ERJ-145MP A6-RRB, as mentioned earlier.
‘Bizliners’ at this years Expo were based Royal Jet Boeing BBJ1 A6-RJY, based Rotana Jet A319CJ A6-RRJ, Aravco/Jet Aviation ZRH A319CJ VP-CCJ, and with a similar colour scheme, the largest aircraft at the show, Arabasco/Al-Atheer Aviation A310-300 HZ-NSA. This was previously operated in ex Brunei Government colours, being ex P4-ABU & V8-DPD. The only military in this years static was UAE AF Beech C90GT 839, which is interesting in being fitted with ‘hygroscopic cloud seeding’ equipment on the inboard wing trailing edges. This has replaced a similarly modified Aero Commander based at Al Ain, in the role of creating artificial rain by dispersing chemicals into the atmosphere. Finally, of the light aircraft and choppers present this year, among several homebuilt’s and auto-gyro’s, were Falcon Aviation Services Bell 412EP A6-FAS and EC135T2+ A6-FLA (‘Hermes’ VIP version), A109 A6-SBK (reg previously on an EC135T1), Qatari Cessna Corvalis TT A7-KAL and Tecnam P2002 Sierra A7-UAH, AMAC Corporate Jet PC-12NG HB-FVW, Vulcanair AP-68TP-600 A-Viator HB-LRZ (shown at last years show as VH-PNW), SAFA (Saudi Aviation Flight Academy) Diamond DA-40NG HZ-SA04 and DA-42NG HZ-SA17 (HZ-SA18 was here last year), Tecnam P2006T I-TWET, Cessna 162 N6054B and Private Sky Pa-46-500TP Malibu Meridian OK-SVK.
Visiting aircraft today, parked just outside the fence were… nice, familiar Malaysian Global Express 9M-CJG, owned by Tony Fernandez, which departed in the afternoon. The Air Asia, Caterham, Tune Group and QPR logo’s on the nose of course indicate the companies that he is a major shareholder in, with the involvement in QPR resulting in visits of the aircraft to a few airports around England for away games (including the Toon). Not so colourfull was all white Falcon 2000EX OY-CLN of Air Alsie/Danfoss Group, while Gulfstream 550 N5GV of Executive Jet Management was also present and departed in the afternoon. Another biz-jet visitor was Cessna 525B N525CJ, operated for Ahmed Al Thani, while the first of several Qatari Cessna’s to visit over the three days was Cessna 182TC A7-MKA. Also, nearby was PC-6 DU-333 of Skydive Dubai/Fazza Sky (which was on static display last year), while active civil choppers photographed today, were Falcon Aviation Services Bell 412EP’s A6-FLC, A6-FLM & A6-FLW and VIP A109S A6-MSM, along with EC130B-4 A6-FOX which arrived.
Military movements today were UAE Navy AS332B 122, AS565SB 193 and AS565(MB) 2171. The latter is a different version of the Panther to the rest seen, and is not listed anywhere (that i can find), so presume is quite new? The AS565SB’s are the ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) version with the large chin mounted radar, while this thing was quite different, with a FLIR under the nose among other differences (including low-viz markings). The other chopper movement was Police AW-139 P-203, while UAE AF movements were CN-235M’s 811 & 815 and L-100-30 1215 (ex A6-MAC). Other Air Force stuff parked up included Avanti 1207, and the Al Fursan MB-339NAT team, with team numbers 1-7 and the usual unmarked spare. These were the main act in a daily flying program, that only featured two other aircraft, including UAE Army Cessna 208B 2249 of the Special Operations Command. This arrived each day and took up a parachute team that opened the flying display, before heading off home (more on this place later). Unfortunately it was the same aircraft that did the same last year (i don’t know how many they have).
Today, for the flying display, i was fortunate enough to arrange access to the ATC tower, to photograph from the balcony. Following his aerobatic display in his custom built Ward Brad Giles 202 N202EW ‘Fazza Sky’, Zoltan Veres then headed off, to return towards the end of the Al Fursan display, suprisingly to join with them in formation for a couple of slow passes. A nice touch. The Hungarian, an ex Malev B737 captain, is very famous in the aerobatic scene, being a five time Guiness world record holder, including for the most continuous rolls in an aircraft… 408! Need a lie down after that! Finally, while at the tower, the military ramp on the East side was visible close by, with the very large Sheikh Zayed mosque behind. Parked here were UAE AF CN-235M’s 812 & 815, C-130H 1211 and all white L100-30 1216 (ex A6-MAX), along with Italian AF C-130J-30 MM62193/46-59 of 50 Gruppo/46 Brigata Aerea and KC-767A MM62227/14-02 of 8 Gruppo/14 Stormo.
A very good first day then, with the highlight still to be mentioned! Also parked on the military ramp, at the far end, behind the Italian Herk… a Yak-40! Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to get a better shot, with all that was visible being an all white aircraft with nothing painted on the fin or number 2 engine. Apparently the aircraft is grounded here, used for training, and is indeed all white with nothing else painted on, so remains unidentified. Rare!
DAY 2 WEDNESDAY 6TH MARCH
This time while in Abu Dhabi, there was another aircraft i had wanted, and arranged to see nearby, so headed there first today, before going on to the show. Located at the HCT (Higher College of Technology) around seven blocks to the West of Al Bateen (ten minutes in a taxi) is Sao Tome registered Jetstar 6 S9-NAE (5085). It is kept in a hangar built on the grounds, and used as an instructional airframe, with Etihad sponsored students there at the time. I have used the id S9-NAE as i understand it was last registered as such, and is the only reg that is carried, in the cockpit, after the exterior had been re-painted into ‘college colours’ with HCT logo’s. Looking into the aircrafts history, it was delivered to Transafrik as N5861 from Miami via Dublin on 20/3/87, becoming S9-NAE and apparently operating mostly in Angola. It then arrived at Manchester on 18/11/90, with ‘RST International’ titles after being re-painted, where it was stored for 16 months before departing as VR-CCY on 13/3/92. A picture in the hangar shows the aircraft landing at Al Bateen ‘around 20 years ago’ (in the same colour scheme), so it may have gone straight there from Manchester, before later being taken by road to the college. Apparently it was restored as S9-NAE around 2004. The ultimate classic biz-jet. Also present outside the hangar here is Pa-28-140 ex A6-ACE (and G-AXTE), minus its outer wings and painted in very loud ‘college colours’. This 1969 built Cherokee was last operated by the Dubai Flying Club at Al Ain (dirt strip) in the early Eighties, before ending up here. Then, around the side of the hangar was an old Jet Ranger, in very faded colours with no markings on it anywhere. Painted all white with day-glo orange (and UAE flag) on the fin, it was later identified through the data plate in the cockpit as being former UAE AF Bell 206B-3 167 (c/n 8688).
Back into the show, visitors at Al Bateen today were… FAI Rent-A-Jet CL604 D-AFAC (ex G-FTSL), MAE Aircraft Management CL-605 A9C-TLH, Beech C90B N747JA (fitted with winglets), along with a few Qatari 'tins', with Cessna 182T A7-AJA, Cessna 172S A7-HYA, and two auto-gyro’s that arrived and departed late on: A7-UGS & A7-USS ‘email@example.com’. Two Falcon Air Services photograhed today were Bell 412EP A6-FLC and EC130B-4 A6-FLI, while military movements included the Italian AF C-130J-30 MM62193/46-59 of 50 Gruppo/46 Brigata Aerea departing. The KC-767 was also gone, so must of left last night or earlier this morning, not to return. Finally, of the Emirati military, UAE Navy AS332B’s 122 & 125 flew today, along with AS565SB’s 191, 193 & 194, UAE Army SOC Cessna 208B 2249 and UAE AF CN-235M’s 811 & 815, L-100-30 1215 and Avanti 1208 which arrived.
DAY 3 THURSDAY 7TH MARCH
After the final night in the Aloft Hotel, i had secured a late check-out, to grab a shower after another hot day ahead at the show, before catching a flight later on. This place is highly recommended, with a fantastic open air rooftop bar and large seating area, giving a 360 degrees view over impressive Abu Dhabi. And so the last day at the show, with just the two visiting biz-jets, but both in sweet colour schemes… Global Jet Luxembourg Falcon 2000LX LX-EVM in a dark grey scheme, and EMB-135BJ VP-CLL of Titan Aviation Dubai in a black and silver scheme, with large initials ‘AH’ next to the front door.Military movements today included UAE Navy AS332B 125 and AS565SB’s 191 & 194, UAE AF AW-139’s 354 & 355, CN-235M’s 811, 813 & 815, Avanti 1207 and UAE Army SOC Cessna 208B 2249. Other choppers active were Police AW-139 P-208 and Bell 412EP P-721, along with Falcon Aviation Services Bell 412EP’s A6-FLC, A6-FLJ & A6-FLZ and A109S A6-MSM.
Finally, a few low overflights today worth mentioning were UAE AF VIP Flight AW-139 2009, which was inbound to nearby Sas Al Nakhl airbase, around 4 miles to the ENE of Al Bateen. This ‘secret base’ is the home of the Special Operations Command Group 18 (Presidential Guard Aviation), with the UAE Army Apache, Blackhawk, Chinook and Caravan units based here. It has a 6,000ft runway, though the location is VERY difficult to get anywhere near to, with security of course very tight. Also inbound today was USAF ‘BigDog’ C-146A (Dornier 328) 10-3026 of the 524SOS/27SOW (Cannon AFB), which flew over Al Bateen into the base. Also, 14 miles to the South of Al Bateen is Al Dhafra, which is the Emirates largest base. Today, after departing Al Ain, the first UAE AF A330MRTT 1301 was tracked as ‘Wabel 10’ (Code 896C3B), AAR out over the desert before recovering to Al Dhafra from the North, also seen from Al Bateen on finals. This was delivered from Getafe to Al Ain on 27th January.