Charter firms eye Dubai market

 - September 20, 2006, 6:05 AM

Increasing demand for private aircraft charter in the Arabian Gulf states is drawing new operators into the market, and many of these firms are based in the region’s commercial hub, Dubai.

For example, Eastern Skyjets recently received a United Arab Emirates (UAE) air operator’s certificate, allowing it to develop its charter business with locally registered aircraft. Since mid-2003, the company has been flying a South African-registered Cessna Citation Eagle under a special exemption.

The six-passenger Eagle may be a somewhat dated model, but it allows the operator to offer flights at rates that seem extremely cost-effective to value-minded corporate clients who do not fit the money-no-object stereotype of Middle Eastern clients.

According to sales and marketing director Tahir Khan, the operator can offer the three-hour round trip between Dubai and Qatar’s capital Doha for about the same rate that rival firms charge for a single flight hour in a newer jet of about the same size.

Eastern Skyjet is now looking to add longer-range, pre-owned aircraft to its fleet, but it is also talking to both Bombardier and Cessna about possible new aircraft options. Whatever choice it makes, the company will almost certainly manage these aircraft for their owners in the charter market.

The company intends to add two jets to its fleet this year–one imminently and another before year-end. It also plans to enter specialist markets such as emergency medical evacuation.

Another new venture for Eastern Skyjets is its portfolio of leisure flight packages. One tour takes clients over Dubai’s impressive and ever-expanding skyline for a bird’s eye view of its new landmark resort developments, such as the Burj al Arab tower and offshore luxury homes being built on land reclaimed from the sea in the shape of palm trees and the countries of the earth.

These 35-minute flights are made at just 1,500 feet and are priced from around $340 per person.

Eastern Skyjets also operates a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 for larger charter requirements. These missions include providing lift for coalition forces, companies and non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan and Iraq. It can also offer flights into east and north Africa and to the Indian subcontinent and former Soviet republics such as Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The operator is looking to replace the DC-9 with a newer version of the same type, or with a Boeing 737 or MD-83.

Dubai-based Jetex Flight Support is also now seeking a UAE air operator’s certificate to allow it to build its charter operations in the Gulf. The company currently has to base its six aircraft in Romania.

The fleet consists largely of executive-configured vintage airliners, including a Boeing 727, a DC-8 and three BAC 111s, and a Dassault Falcon 900B trijet. Jetex is now looking to add a smaller business jet and intends to base two aircraft in Dubai.

Jetex also provides other business aircraft operators with flight planning and clearances, ground handling and fuel. In addition to Dubai and the Romanian capital Bucharest, it has staff in Lebanon and several African countries.

The firm has 45 employees in Dubai and is hiring about half a dozen more. It has declared its intent to open a full-service FBO somewhere in the Middle East.

Elite Jets has been in business in Dubai for more than a year and has just added a second Raytheon Hawker 1000 to its fleet. The operator recently completed a deal with the Al Naboodah Travel tour group to provide private aircraft charters.

In a separate arrangement with Dubai-based broker International Air Charter, Elite Jets is also providing block charter terms to the local market.

Elite has also operated customer demonstration flights on behalf of Raytheon Aircraft, and one of these recently resulted in the sale of a Hawker 800 to Lynx Aviation of Karachi, Pakistan. The Dubai firm is planning to add two more managed aircraft to its fleet this year.