Gulf airlines took centre stage at the biennial Farnborough International Airshow on 19-25 July, making a number of headline-grabbing announcements, with orders for new aircraft potentially totalling more than $10,000 million.

Leading the way was Abu Dhabi-based carrier Etihad Airways, which signed on 20 July a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Europe’s Airbusto purchase 24 aircraft, including four A380s, four long-range A340-500s, four A340-600s and 12 A330-200s. The order is worth up to $7,000 million if all options are taken up. Deliveries are is due to begin in 2006.

Etihad, which started operations only late last year, has a fleet of six aircraft and the latest deal will considerably increase its capacity. ‘Today is a truly significant day for Etihad’s young existence,’ said airline chief Ahmed bin Saif al-Nahyan, speaking at the signing ceremony. ‘I cannot recall a time in airline history when a start-up operation, barely eight months old, has had the confidence, resources and ambition to place orders for 24 new wide-bodied and very large aircraft.’

Like its compatriot, Dubai-based carrier Emirateswas also making the headlines. On 20 July, it signed a contract with The Boeing Company of the US for the firm purchase of four of its 777-300ER aircraft, with the option for a further nine more. The 13 aircraft, which have a total list price value of $2,960 million, bring the number of Boeing aircraft on order from Emirates to 39, in addition to the 21 Boeing aircraft it currently operates.

The following day, the airline signed contracts, worth $1,130 million, with three firms for the supply and installation of in-flight entertainment systems, full-flight simulators, visual systems and first-class suites.

The largest contract, totalling $1,000 million, was signed with Japan’s Matsushita Avionics Systems Corporation (MAS) to supply the eX2 in-flight entertainment system, which includes interactive audio, video, games, communication and connectivity support for the airline’s Airbus fleet. US-based B/E Aerospace was awarded a contract worth $80 million for the design, manufacturing and delivery of first-class suites for A380s.

A third contract, worth $50 million, was awarded to Montreal-based CAE for the supply of two A380-800 and one A340-600 full-flight simulators.

Qatar Airwaysalso got in on the act at the show, with the 21 July announcement that it had signed an agreement with Canada’s Bombardierfor a Challenger 300 super mid-size business jet aircraft.