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Dubai Airshow Organizer Harnesses Growth in Military Attendance

Nov. 4, 2013 - 09:57AM   |  
By ANDREW CHUTER   |   Comments
Sharief Fahmy is the CEO of F&E Aerospace, which organizes the Dubai Airshow. But he's also a 23-year US Air Force veteran who has seen the show from the military and the industry side.
Sharief Fahmy is the CEO of F&E Aerospace, which organizes the Dubai Airshow. But he's also a 23-year US Air Force veteran who has seen the show from the military and the industry side. (F&E Aerospace)
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LONDON — You don’t get to be a key member of the military team responsible for transporting the president of the United States around the globe without having an eye for detail and top-draw customer service, according to Sharief Fahmy, CEO of F&E Aerospace.

Fahmy should know. As a US Air Force captain, he was a mission director on Air Force One, arguably the most famous aircraft in the world, during the presidency of George W. Bush.

The best of the best attitude required for Air Force One is exactly what the retired lieutenant colonel hopes to bring to his job at F&E Aerospace, which organizes the Dubai Airshow.

“It taught me a level of excellence that I’m hoping to bring to the air show. When you are dealing with America’s first family and other world leaders, you get to learn quite a bit about attention to detail and customer service,” Fahmy said.

The 23-year US Air Force veteran eventually found himself at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi as an international regional area strategist, a role that included him leading US government participation in a previous Dubai Airshow and the International Defence Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi before retiring and joining F&E Aerospace as chief executive.

“One of the things I bring to the role as CEO is geopolitical knowledge and influence on developing a business. During my tenure working out of the US Embassy on foreign military sales we started with $1.8 billion worth of sales to the UAE [United Arab Emirates] and ratcheted that up to $30 billion on the back of programs like F-16 and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and Patriot missile programs.

Fahmy said that one of the things he is intent on improving in his new role is the military delegation experience at the show. It’s the key reason that many of the defense exhibitors hand over their shrinking marketing budgets to Dubai Airshow and others to gain access too high level delegations.

“Dubai has always prided itself on its delegation program,” he said. “I hope, having been a military customer and seen it from the other side, to enhance the delivery of the program this year.”

The UAE Defence Ministry is ultimately responsible for who gets invited to the air show and who doesn’t, and delegation numbers are rising, but there is plenty the show organizer can do once those decisions are in place.

Part of that has involved F&E Aerospace hiring additional liaison officials to increase support the show’s delegation effort.

Fahmy said that with senior delegation officials on the ground only for the first one or two days, considerable effort has been put in ahead of the show opening identifying “what businesses are coming to the show and matching that with the delegations to ensure everybody gets the right meeting during the limited time the delegations are in country.

“What we are doing is taking a very successful program and taking it to the next level. That’s helped by my experience from having been on the other end of the delegations program,” he said during a telephone interview ahead of the show opening.

This year’s delegation experience also includes an evening reception for 800 people onboard an aircraft carrier moored off Dubai, courtesy of the US Navy.

The US military will also be providing another highlight for the 60,000-plus business visitors Fahmy expects to attend the show, which is scheduled to include flying displays by a US Air Force B-1 bomber and F-22 Raptor fighter jet.

Fahmy cites an improved flying display as one of the big benefits of moving Dubai Airshow 2013 to the new exhibition center at Dubai World Central, part of the vast logistics, airport and industrial complex emerging from the desert at Jebel Ali between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Previously held adjacent to the international airport, the Dubai Airshow had become constrained by space and the flying display handicapped by the comings and goings at one of the world’s busiest aviation hubs.

Now, with the shackles removed, the show this year will be double the size of the 2011 display area.

The exhibition site has completely recovered from a major fire in May, Fahmy said.

The F&E Aerospace boss said Dubai 2013 is taking up the entire 645,000 square feet of exhibition space in a single hall equivalent to the size of about seven American football fields.

Fahmy said F&E Aerospace has been able to utilize all the space on the back of an 11 percent rise in exhibitors and new initiatives, like a UN-supported pavilion for aviation humanitarian and disaster relief.

As of late October, exhibitor numbers were more than 1,000, although it’s not clear how much of the growth is from the booming civil aviation side of the business and how much from defense companies attracted by the continued high spending among Gulf Cooperation Council nations, particularly in the air defense sector.

With the Lockheed Martin F-35 not available for export to the region, Fahmy said interest in interim solutions is high. “That’s why you have the Typhoon, Rafale and F/A-18 flying in the display, he said.

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