Bahrain, keen to show its recovery after violent unrest,
will not get much mileage from its air show, the first major international
event since the protests, as the West remains wary of unpopular defence deals
and commercial orders fizzle.
The Gulf island kingdom is pulling out the stops for the
second Bahrain Air Show, which starts on Thursday and comes after the
cancellation of the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix and the Volvo Golf
Championship last year.
Planemakers Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier , Embraer as well as
defence contractors, including Lockheed Martin, will be at the show which
generated a modest $1bn in deals in its inaugural edition in 2010.
"The on-going political problems in Bahrain mean that
the show is unlikely to be as successful as the Bahrainis would like it to
be," said Michael Stephens, researcher at Qatar-based Royal United
Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.
"Bahrain relies on its reputation as a good place to do
business to survive - they do not have much oil or material resources. The air
show needs to be a success for them to revive their international
The Sunni-led state, home to the US Fifth Fleet, sought to
crush anti-government demonstrations mounted by the country's Shi'ite Muslim
majority in 2011. Protest marches have continued in recent months, sometimes
turning violent. The unrest has cost Bahrain's economy some $2bn and curbed
The crackdown drew international criticism and prompted
Britain to revoke arms export licences while Washington said a $53m arms sale
to Bahrain partly hinged on the Gulf monarchy halting abuses against
Given political sentiment, analysts expect no major defence
deals between Bahrain and Western firms. Instead, a key focus will be potential
purchases by other Gulf states.
Last month, the Obama administration sealed a $29.4bn deal
for advanced Boeing F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia and the UAE inked a
$3.5bn deal with the US for an advanced antimissile interception system.
"There's fierce competition out there to grab deals
from Saudi Arabia, UAE and other Gulf countries looking to strengthen their
force." said Riad Kahwaji, chief executive of Dubai-based think tank
"These companies will be at the air show not for
Bahrain but for their neighbours like Saudi Arabia and UAE."
Competition to sell fighters is intensifying amid rising
security tensions in the Gulf over Iran and pressure on domestic Western
defence budgets, which has prompted US and European manufacturers to step up
efforts to find exports.
The reticence of Western defence firms to strike big deals
with Bahrain has encouraged Russia, which is making a major appearance at the
air show with a display of its fighter jets including the Sukhoi combat
"The Russians certainly see a gap in the market and
they would want to exploit it," said Stephens. "But I think the
Bahrainis would want to go for American or British if they had the chance,
primarily for alliance cohesion and inter-operability with other weapons
Gulf carriers, which went on a buying spree at the Dubai Airshow
in November with some $63bn in orders, are not expected to announce any
deals in Bahrain.
Indeed, Dubai's Emirates airline and Abu Dhabi's Etihad
Airways will not be present at the three-day show while Qatar Airways will make
Bahrain's flagship carrier Gulf Air, once in the forefront
but left behind by intense competition from its Gulf rivals, is in focus.
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The carrier, which has a fleet of 36 aircraft, has been in
talks with Airbus and Boeing to reschedule deliveries and change its widebody
aircraft orders to narrowbodies as part of its focus on network of regional
Bombardier might gain from Gulf Air's plans with the carrier
said to be eyeing the Canadian firm's CSeries narrow-body jets. Bombardier has
scheduled a press conference for Friday morning amid speculation a deal may
In April, Bahrain's state tender board flagged Bombardier as
the front-runner for a deal valued at around $328m, according to media reports.
A Gulf Air spokeswoman said the airline had no announcements scheduled for the
Organizers, who say about 40 companies are participating in
the show, have been promoting the event across Bahrain. Anti-government
activists have called for demonstrations to protest against the event.
"Bahrain wants to mobilise the tourism sector ... it
wants to say to the world that things are fine." said one Bahraini
activist. "But everybody knows that things are not fine."
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