The inaugural Bahrain International Air show (BIAS) took place at the new Sakhir Airbase from 21-23 January 2010. Duncan Monk reports from a thoroughly well planned and executed event, that is an exciting and welcome addition to the air show calendar.
During July of 2008, Farnborough International Limited (FIL) announced that it was planning a biennial international civil and military airshow called the Royal Bahrain Airshow, in conjunction with the Civil Aviation Affairs (CAA) of the Kingdom of Bahrain. The idea being to provide a totally new concept to the global aerospace community, and to stage one of the most influential and prestigious aerospace hospitality events in the region.
The site of the airshow is at the new Sakhir air base, directly adjacent to the Bahrain International Circuit where the annual Formula 1 event is held. The old airstrip had to undergo a lot of cosmetic changes in order to bring it up to the standard required for such a prestigious event. Using over 200 tonnes of steel, 40 purpose built chalets have been created, plus a large dispersal was constructed for the static aircraft and two hangars that can house an A380 each built. Before building work could commence 600, 000 cubic metres of earth had to be excavated, of which 425,000 cubic metres was solid rock.
Under Royal patronage, the show took place from Thursday 21st through to Saturday 23rd January 2010. Although this was billed as a Trade event, the show was open to the public everyday, with tickets costing 7 Bahrain Dinars (BD) for adults and 3 BD for children – approx £11/£5. However the public area was some 1km from the trade site, which meant flying displays were distant, and the only static they had to view were two helicopters.
All 40 chalets were sold out well in advance of the show, with high profile companies queuing up to take part, which included: Rolls Royce, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, DHL, Airbus, Boeing, Cessna and Gulf Air, to name but a few.
The flying display boasted some great aircraft, such as Russia’s SU-27 SKM, the USN F-18F, French Air Force Rafale, Bahraini F-16, Saudi Hawks display team, Patrouille de France, Team Viper from the UK and a public airshow first, 3 x full size UAV’s.
The static line up didn’t look to shabby either, with a USAF C-17, C-21 and a C-130H from Dyess AFB. There was also a pair of South Dakota ANG F-16C’s from the 175th FS, USN F-18E from VFA14 USS Nimitz, and a good selection from the Bahraini Air Force – Hawk, F-16, F-5, Bo105, and from the Royal Air Wing, the King of Bahrain’s S-92 and BAE-146.
The show and brand new airfield (to be known as Sakhir Air Base), were officially opened by His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who toured the site and made brief visits to a number of the 76 aircraft on display.
The BIAS’s opening day saw more than $1bn worth of deals struck. Yemenia, Yemen’s national airline, placed an order for 10 Airbus A320 aircraft, Gulf Air signed a preliminary contract to lease 2 Embraer 170 aircraft, Selex won a $15 million contract from the Bahrain Civil aviation authority for primary surveillance radar and 2 Mode-S secondary surveillance radars for Bahrain International airport, and the Bahrain Air Force finalised the details to their order for 9 UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters.
From a media point of view the organisation and information was second to none, with a fantastically well equipped modern media centre situated near the main entrance to the show. The only down side for photographers is that the site faces West, which means that during the flying display you are shooting directly into the sun. It was suggested that in the future a press enclosure be made available to photographers on the other side of the site, for the duration of the flying display.
The new airfield at Sakhir will not be confined to military use in the future. It may also become a commercial hub for events such as the Formula 1 race, which takes place annually at the nearby Sakhir race track, hosting the 100+ VIP flights which normally Bahrain International Airport has to handle.
It is not clear what military aircraft will be based at Sakhir. From talking to various Bahraini Air Force aircrew, it seems the Royal Air Wing may decamp from the International airport in due course. The aircrew were non committal to dates and types that may also set up home at this impressive new facility.
The general feedback from visitors, aircrew and exhibitors alike at BIAS 2010 was that the quality of the show, organisation and smooth running made for a relaxing and enjoyable event. Although no official figures have yet been quoted, the first two days seemed very busy, although Saturday looked quiet in comparison.
The Bahrain Civil Aviation Affairs and Bahrain Air Force have to be hugely congratulated for their involvement and commitment to making this show a huge success. Together with the organisers Farnborough International Ltd, this biennial event should establish itself as one of the premier trade shows for years to come.
The author would like to thank Communications Executive Danielle Jackson and all her team for their assistance before, during and after the event.