BAHRAIN – Last month approximatley 30,000 people – including delegations from 25 countries, executives from 40 of the world’s aerospace powerhouses and 400 media – ascended on Bahrain’s Sakhir Airbase for the Kingdom’s First International Airshow.
Differing from any other air show in the world, this invitational event provided the ultimate VIP experience – complete with luxury chalets, sweeping gold canopies and displays of some of the world’s most coveted new technologies. Executives from Lockheed Martin, Airbus, Boeing, GE, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and the U.S. Department of Defense were in attendance, making it possible for these world-class organizations to do business together in an environment that is truly unique.
Ultimately, an estimated $1 billion in deals were signed over the course of the three-day event Jan. 21-23.
“We are delighted by the results of the first Bahrain International Airshow,” said HH Shaikh Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa, chairman of the Supreme Organizing Committee. “The show brought manufacturers and users under the same roof, enabling them to do business effectively and uniquely. The strong presence of the leading aerospace and defense manufacturers signaled the inaugural show’s success.”
Hard to believe only six months ago the Sakhir Airbase was not much of an airbase at all. It was a barren airfield – a strip of compacted sand.
Inspired by the success of the unparalleled Bahrain International Grand Prix Circuit built adjacent to the airbase in 2004, the Kingdom and its event-organizing team at Farnborough International envisioned a spectacle of grandeur.
To turn this dream into a reality, they relied on the expertise of leading exhibit design house Lea International, which has a long history of success working with the aerospace industry to design and develop spectacular event spaces. Founder and managing director Ian Lea has been an authority in the business for more than 40 years.
The challenge: Lea’s team only had six months to make this dream come to life. It was a monumental task, to be sure.
“Our first reaction?” Ian Lea recalled. “We said, ‘let’s do it!’ And that was it. We jumped in feet first.”
The Lea International team worked around the clock to transform Sakhir Airbase, designing and constructing a panorama of luxury buildings and interiors, which Capt. Abdulrahman Al Gaoud, the undersecretary for Bahrain’s Civil Aviation Affairs and executive chairman of the organizing committee, said he believes “set a new standard in aerospace events worldwide for many years to come.”
Of course there were many challenges the team faced along the way.
A million man-hours went into the project and more than 21 million cubic feet of earth were excavated from the site. Materials were shipped from around the world, including about 200 tons of steel.
“From day one, the logistics of getting materials to Bahrain was a major challenge,” Lea said. “We actually chartered four 747 freighters to fast-track the project.”
Then there was the grueling heat. Four Lea International employees relocated from the United Kingdom to Bahrain to oversee the progress of the project. The remainder of the staff took turns flying over for several weeks at a time. But with a grand entrance, royal suites, business chalets, restaurants, a media center and assorted public buildings to construct in the six-month period, it was all hands on deck. The Lea team also called on a number of local subcontractors who supplied everything from metalwork to large-scale exterior graphics to floral arrangements.
“It was an invigorating challenge to create such a vast permanent event infrastructure from scratch in such a tight timescale,” Ian Lea said upon completion. “Having just six months to bring these stunning structures from the 3D (three-dimensional) visual stage to reality has been a testament to the whole team. I know that the final result will be the envy of the entire aerospace community.”
And it was.
More than 350 dignitaries were in attendance to witness the opening of the Sakhir Airbase and the Bahrain International Airshow.
“We have been thrilled to receive excellent feedback from participants and visitors alike,” said Amanda Stainer, the exhibitions and events director for the Farnborough International Team. “Everyone has commented upon the quality of the show structures, the organization and smooth running of procedures and the atmosphere of the day.”
Despite the exhaustion, Lea said the team was “immensely proud to have been involved and to have succeeded.”
Bahrain’s royal family even personally praised the team for its efforts.
Biennial Bahrain air shows have been planned for 2012 and 2014, and Lea International has already been contracted to assist. With the success of this project, Lea is also planning to take on other new projects across the region and is in the midst of opening its first permanent office in Bahrain.