Bahrain International Airshow (BIAS) 2014 was held at Sakhir Air Base, around 35 minutes’ drive from central Manama, between 16 and 18 January. Karl Drage was present, acting as Crew Chief for the Huawei Twister Duo.
The island Kingdom of Bahrain lies near the western shores of the Persian Gulf and is home to around 1.25 million people.
Since 2010 a biannual aviation trade show, organised by the Ministry of Transportation and the Royal Bahrain Air Force in partnership with Farnborough International Ltd, has been hosted at the purpose-built Sakhir Air Base, bringing together manufacturers, governments, operators, developers and purveyors of aviation services within the region and beyond.
Over 100 international and domestic companies were represented at BIAS 2014. Amongst the bigger names present were Airbus, BAE Systems, Bahrain Defence Force, Boeing, DHL, Finmeccanica, GE, Gulf Air, Gulfstream, Lockheed Martin, Qatar Airways, Sikorsky / Pratt & Whitney and Thales.
Deputising for his father, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, BIAS 2014 was officially opened on the morning of 16 January by Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Crown Prince of Bahrain.
Over the course of the next three days, deals totalling almost three billions US dollars were signed – tripling the total from the 2012 show. Of particular note was Bombardier’s confirmation of a 16-aircraft sale to start-up airline Saudi Gulf. The type involved is the CS300 and includes options for a further ten units. Bahrain Airport Company also announced four deals worth a combined total of $58m for the modernisation of Bahrain International Airport.
More than 100 aircraft participated in the show, including 89 on the ground and visitor numbers topped 50,000 in total across the three days. Types on display ranged from ultra-lights and auto-gyros right through to the behemoth that is the Emirates Airbus A380.
The Royal Bahraini Air Force enclosure featured single examples of the F-5E, F-16C, UH-60M, Bell 212, AH-1 Hawk Mk 129 and BAe 146, while elsewhere around the site you could find a UH-60L (one of two used in the VIP transport role), two further Bell 212s and two Bo 105s. Additionally, a Bahraini Police Service Bell 412 was present in the public area.
Gulfstream was represented by a G650 and a G450, while other bizjets present included a BD700, CL605, Falcon 900EX and a Citation 525.
Of the larger business-tailored aircraft, Emirates Executive had A319-115X A6-CJE on display, and Comlux Aviation had 767-2DX(ER) P4-CLA on hand.
The regular airliner market was covered by the previously mentioned Emirates A380, Qatar 787, Gulf Air A320 and Air Arabia A320.
Gulf Helicopters was responsible for the largest rotor-craft present in the trade park, thanks to its AW139, while the award for the brightest colour scheme would have certainly gone to the green MD900 belonging to Life Flight, had such a thing existed.
Examples of both Royal Air Force and Saudi Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons could be found on static display with efforts to get the Royal Bahraini Air Force to commit to the type as a replacement for its F-5 Tiger IIs intensifying.
Dassault, meanwhile, was represented by an Armée de l’Air Rafale C from the French Air Force’s permanent detachment at Al Dhafra Air Base, UAE, Base Aérienne 104.
Beyond the trade chalets laid ‘Little America’, with an impressive array of frontline US hardware comprising AH-1Z, C-130J, F-15E, F/A-18D, F/A-18F, MH-53E, MV-22B & UH-1Y.
The flying display was split into three distinct phases. The morning phase was dedicated specifically to the public area at the southern end of the display line, while the afternoon and ‘sunset’ slots were centred more around the trade and VIP areas of the site, towards the north.
Headlining the show were the five Sukhoi Su-27s of the Russian Knights. Other military display teams present included the Saudi Hawks and the UAE’s Al Fursan, while the Royal Bahraini Air Force flew a formation of four F-5s and four F-16s alongside a Gulf Air A330, though the inclement weather precluded the RBAF representation from taking part on the final day of the show.
The Gulf Air A330 was not the only airliner-sized aircraft to take part. In addition to performing a nice solo display, DHL International Aviation ME flew one of its Boeing 757-200Fs in formation with the recently rebranded Extra 200 and Extra 300 of Adrian Willis and Chris Burkett respectively. I was lucky enough to undertake an air-to-air photoshoot with the three aircraft over the Bahrain International Circuit in the lead-up to the show. Look out for pictures and the story in the next issue of Global Aviation Magazine.
BIAS 2014 was held during the GREAT British Week (15 to 22 January), an event conceived as a celebration of the near 200 year relationship between the United Kingdom and Bahrain. In addition to a host of UK participation at the show, all manner of companies and organisations hosted events across the Kingdom to showcase the long-standing business links between the two nations.
At various points, visitors to the show could see top-end McLaren road cars and even bright red ‘London buses’, while the Duke of York – HRH Prince Andrew – attended the event on behalf of the UK government.
Painted and shipped out especially for the show was Historic Flying Ltd’s Spitfire Mk.IXT G-CCCA, marked as ‘W3632’ and adorned with ‘BAHRAIN’ titles for the event. W3632 was flown during World War II by (then) Flying Officer Francis Scott-Malden, who retired as an Air Vice Marshal, after it had been gifted to the UK by the people of Bahrain who had raised some £15,000 to buy it. The aircraft was flown at BIAS 2014 by the Aircraft Restoration Company’s owner, John Romain.
Solo fast jet displays were provided by Flt Lt Jamie “Noz” Norris, undertaking his final duties as Royal Air Force 2013 Typhoon Display Pilot, and Capt Masoud Al Falahi and Capt Khaled Al Jabri, the UAEAF & AD’s Mirage 2000-9 and F-16E Desert Falcon display pilots respectively.
Among the more noteworthy military displays were the Indian Air Force’s Embraer EMB-145SA, fitted with an indigenous AEW&C system, and the TAI/AgustaWestland T129 ‘ATAK’ helicopter.
The T129 has been developed from the Agusta A129 Mangusta attack helicopter, and, in addition to an uprated engine, is capable of carrying 12 Roketsan UMTAS anti-tank missiles. To date only six prototypes have been built, but the TAI already has existing orders for 60 units from the Turkish Army, and Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea and the UAE have reportedly expressed an interest in the design. The example present at the show only flew during the opening day’s programme, sadly.
Making a welcome return to the airshow scene following last year’s enforced absence due to sequestration were two USAF Air Combat Command types in the shape of the B-1B Lancer and the F-22A Raptor, which were on hand each day to perform a series of flypasts, creating some spectacular sights in the moist air.
A slower tempo was achieved through aerobatic displays by the aforementioned DHL Extras – for which BIAS 2014 represented their first public outing – the ever-excellent Mark Jefferies, who was forced to perform in his Extra 300L after his Extra 330SC failed to arrive in Bahrain after the ship on which it was being transported was diverted to Saudi Arabia instead.
Further British participation came by way of the Breitling Wingwalkers. Unlike Al Ain, Aerosuperbatics’ owner Vic Norman was on hand and shared the display flying duties with Martyn Carrington, while Danielle “Bird” Hughes and Freya “Princess” Paterson strutted their stuff on the Stearmans’ wings.
In addition to performing during the daytime show, the concluding element of each day’s programme was commenced by the Huawei Twister Duo, led by Pete Wells, with their now trademark pyro display. The penultimate evening’s performance was particularly well received as the heart they draw in the sky during their final manoeuvre was positioned perfectly above the Emirates A380 that was waiting for them to land so that it could depart.
Bringing down the curtain on the display was the British Army Parachute Regiment’s Red Devils parachute display team, who used a Royal Bahraini Air Force UH-60M as a jump platform.
During my time working with the team, we managed to sneak in an air-to-air sortie down to the truly beautiful Durrat Al Bahrain. Expect to see some imagery from that in an upcoming BlogGAR entry.
With the runway running north-south (and with a rather distant display line), conditions during the middle part of the day were extremely difficult for the photographer, however, the opportunities that were presented as the sun set in the sky more than made up for that. Additionally, the stanchion lighting illuminating the aircraft located north of the trade site after dark is absolutely perfect for night photography.
It is worth noting that the general public did not have access to the trade and main static areas of the show ground, so if you are intending to visit the BIAS in 2016, you are strongly advised to seek media accreditation.
Bahrain International Airshow 2014 was a huge commercial success, of that there can be no doubt. Already, the 2016 edition promises much.