The scale and impact of the MEBA 2008 show must have removed any remaining doubts that today the Middle East is business aviation’s hottest marketplace. Admittedly, there is now talk of some pending slowdown of the manic economic growth that has gripped the Arabian Gulf states in recent years, but this sentiment did not manifest itself among the new customers flocking to business aviation and the service providers eager to bring them into the fold.
The second full-blown MEBA show– held in Dubai from November 16 to 18–was roughly three times the size of the January 2007 event. It drew 250 exhibitors from 30 countries and featured a packed static display with more than 70 aircraft. As of press time, the visitor count was more than 5,500. To put this in context, Europe’s second EBACE show in 2002 drew 219 exhibitors and just over 4,800 visitors. This would suggest that the Middle East, where the business aviation industry today is still far less developed than Europe’s was six years ago, has every bit as much potential as the more mature market in Europe.
MEBA 2008 was opened by HE Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, the minister of
the economy for the United Arab Emirates. The show site spanned more than 107,000 sq ft of exhibit space and 25 chalets.
The value of orders announced at the MEBA show also exceeded organizers’ expectations, topping $1.6 billion (and by some estimates closer to $2 billion) over the course of three days. Al Jaber Aviation (AJA) was the prime driver of this vast flow of new business, announcing $1.2 billion in contracts for 21 new aircraft. The first of its mixed fleet of large-cabin aircraft will enter service in February based at City Airport Abu Dhabi (the former Al Bateen military air base).
An Embraer Legacy 600 will be the first aircraft to enter the AJA fleet, to be followed by a second of the 13-seat type, plus five 19-seat Embraer Lineage 1000s and four each of the new Legacy 450 and 500 midsize jets. Heading the fleet will be four Airbus A318 Elites with 19 seats. Finally, two Airbus Corporate Jetliners with seating for up to 32 passengers will complete the massive AJA buy.
Embraer also announced two other sets of orders for its growing Legacy line of jets. Kuwait-based charter operator ASAIG Aviation, a subsidiary of Al-Shalfan International Group, signed a contract for two Legacy 500s with a total value of $36.8 million. The first of this pair is scheduled for delivery in the fourth quarter of 2103.
ASAIG plans to use one Legacy 500 for on-demand charter and the second for the private travel needs of the Al-Shalfan International Group. The operating company also holds a previous order for eight Phenoms–six 100s and two 300s–with the delivery of the first jet scheduled for December next year.
The third order came from Falcon Aviation Services (FAS) of Abu Dhabi, for two Legacy 500s scheduled for first delivery in the second quarter of 2014. The Brazilian airframer also announced the appointment of FAS as its first authorized service center for the Middle East.
On the second day of MEBA, Swiss-based Comlux Aviation ordered a second Airbus A320 Prestige for its growing charter/management fleet. The new aircraft will be completed by the Airbus Corporate Jet Centre in Toulouse, France (in which Comlux is a shareholder) and is expected to be active in the Middle East charter market.
Hawker Beechcraft signed a deal with Saudi Arabia Airlines for six Hawker 400XP twinjets worth a total of about $50 million. Scheduled for delivery next year, the airplanes will join the carrier’s Saudia Private Aviation fleet.
To take advantage of the growth of business aviation in the Middle East, the U.S. manufacturer has established a sales office in Dubai and recently added a technical representative there as well. NetJets Middle East displayed its first Hawker 750 at the show, marking the model’s introduction to the region. Jeddah-based National Air Services will operate the airplane as the fractional ownership group’s regional partner.
Jordanian operator Arab Wings ordered a $17 million Cessna Citation Sovereign for delivery in next year’s second half. Also announced at the show was the delivery of a second Sovereign to Abu Dhabi-based Prestige Jet and the delivery of two more Citation Mustangs to Lebanese air-taxi company Open Sky.
Cessna debuted the full-scale cabin mockup of its new large-cabin business jet, the $27 million Citation Columbus. Approximately 10 percent of the 71 aircraft ordered so far are for Middle East customers.
Wallan Aviation, Cessna’s authorized sales representative in the region, has already resold its initial order of three aircraft. On the last day of the show, the Saudi Arabian company signed a $90 million contract for three more Columbus jets, an unspecified new Citation, a Caravan and two pre-owned Citation CJs.
Also during the show, Cessna appointed Wallan an authorized service center for the 500-series Citations. Wallan’s Citation service facility is located at Thumama Airport, 14 miles northeast of Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport.
BAE Systems announced the sale of an Avro Business Jet to Casino Rodos, which will use the reconfigured regional airliner to transport customers to its casino on the Greek island of Rhodes. The former BAe 146-200 has been given a new cabin by the UK’s Inflite Engineering Services and can now seat 34 passengers in first-class comfort. It will be operated by Greek charter firm GainJet.
Dassault reported that deliveries this year have included the first two Falcon 7Xs in the region. The first quarter of next year will see the deliveries of the first of the 20 Falcon 2000LX twinjets that National Air Service (NAS) of Saudi Arabia signed for last year. These airplanes will join the NetJets Middle East fractional ownership program.
The health of the Middle East market has convinced Dassault to establish a full-time sales office and set up a dedicated parts distribution center in the region. Several service centers based in the Middle East are currently under evaluation to expand the Falcon authorized service center network, which now comprises 33 facilities. Falcon customer service currently has one service manager based in Jeddah and another will shortly be appointed in Dubai.
Egyptian actor and martial arts professional Yousef Mansour was at the event to sign a contract for a Project Phoenix CRJ. This is a 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200 regional airliner that has been converted to a long-range executive jet role. It seats up to 12 passengers and will be based in Cairo, where it will be operated by ExecuJet Aviation. Scheduled for delivery in September 2009, the Phoenix CRJ will be used to fly Mansour and his film crews on location but will also be shared with several Middle East colleagues who will use it for private charters around the region.
The Emivest SJ30, which like the Phoenix CRJ is represented in the Middle East by Action Aviation, established an official National Aeronautic Association speed record for its weight class en route to MEBA, flying from London to Dubai in seven hours and seven minutes, including a 41-minute refueling stop in Istanbul, Turkey.
The flight, piloted by Action Aviation chairman Hamish Harding and Emivest’s Bryan Dennison, covered a great-circle distance of 3,013 nm for an average speed of 424 knots. The London-Dubai speed dash by SJ30 S/N 007 is the fastest time recorded for any airplane weighing less than 20,000 pounds. A Gulfstream V set the overall speed record between London and Dubai in 1997, flying nonstop at an average speed of 452 knots.
The Eclipse Aviation Eclipse 500 very light jet made an appearance at the MEBA show, courtesy of Dubai-based Palm Aviation and MyJet Turkey. The entry-level jet stayed in Dubai after the event for flight demonstrations.
Palm Aviation vice president and CEO Samer Dabbagh maintained that there is a lot of interest in VLJs in the Middle East. MyJet Turkey, part of the Etirc group, which handles international sales of the Eclipse, demonstrated its own commitment to the Eclipse 500 by placing an order for 120 aircraft. Palm Aviation is supporting MyJet Turkey in its efforts to operate the Eclipse in the Middle East.
Piaggio Aero reached an agreement with Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies to establish its first authorized service center in the Middle East for the Avanti turboprop twin. The new facility will be open by year-end at Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Abu Dhabi Airports announced that the UAE capital’s new dedicated private jet airport has been renamed City Airport Abu Dhabi as part of the overhaul and transformation from its former Al Bateen airbase identity. The name change is intended to highlight the airport’s convenient location, just four miles from the city center.
Jordan’s RayaJet placed a firm order with Bombardier for a Challenger 300. It is also on the verge of ordering a new large-cabin 605 as part of an upgrade program for a fleet that currently consists of a Challenger 601 and a Cessna Citation VII (which it hopes to replace with a Citation X).
The Amman-based company also announced an alliance with Ayla Aviation Academy, a flight-training provider based in Aqaba, Jordan. The companies will provide flight services, as well as maintenance and charter, to customers in the region. Meanwhile, through its sister company Sama, RayaJet is establishing an FBO at Jordan’s Marka International and Queen Alia International Airports.
Beirut FBO Cedar Jet Center has started offering aircraft maintenance services in partnership with its sister company, Masco. Next month, the joint venture will open a new hangar dedicated to maintenance operations.
The facility at the Lebanese capital’s Hariri International Airport is approved as a maintenance organization by the European Aviation Safety Agency and it has already completed major overhaul checks on Airbus Corporate Jetliners. Cedar and Masco have recently begun to offer line maintenance for aircraft ranging in size from a BBJ to a Cessna Mustang. The Mustangs are operated by Lebanese charter firm Open Sky Aviation.
Abu Dhabi-based Prestige Jet is expanding its air ambulance business to cater to a strong surge in demand for its medical evacuation and repatriation services. During the show, the company announced the formation of a new subsidiary, Prestige Flight Ambulance, which will make a dedicated Bombardier Challenger 604 and Learjet 55 available around the clock to carry patients to and from the United Arab Emirates.
The two aircraft will be equipped with an intensive care unit and qualified medical staff. Patients can be accompanied by their own physicians, and an all-female crew can be provided when needed. Prestige Jet expects the addition of these two aircraft to yield a 60-percent growth in operations.
TAG Aviation announced the opening of a Dubai office, allowing it to offer the group’s aircraft management and charter services direct to Middle East customers. The new operation will also promote TAG’s U.S. aircraft completions operation. The Dubai office, which will be headed up by director of business development Akbar Siddiqi, will also offer aircraft acquisition consulting and will give the Middle East market more direct access to the chartering potential of TAG’s managed fleet. Completion consulting now is provided by TAG Aviation Services based in the U.S., and the newly established company is hoping to promote its capabilities to Middle East customers.
Royal Jet has unveiled a service initiative intended to maintain its claimed leadership of the Middle Eastern VIP charter market. The company, which has its origins in the Abu Dhabi head-of-state Amiri flight department, has contracted brand and service consultancy Performa Global to closely examine all aspects of its services and make recommendations to “take these to the next level.” The operator, which also runs an FBO at Abu Dhabi International Airport, has put all its staff through extensive training programs.
As part of the continuing service upgrade program, Royal Jet has contracted Genesis Custom Airliners to refurbish its fleet of five Boeing Business Jets. Separately, the operator has forged a new alliance with Jordanian company Arab Wings to cooperate in aircraft management.
German executive charter operator DC Aviation signed a joint-venture agreement with Dubai-based Al-Futtaim group to start a new business aviation operator to serve the high-end Middle East market. The venture will use Al-Futtaim’s local presence alongside DC Aviation’s capabilities in aircraft management, executive charter, aircraft maintenance and consulting services. Subject to regulatory approvals, the new company will start operations next year.
During the show, Elite Jets announced that it is adding a Falcon 900B to its charter/management fleet. The company also signed an agreement to develop a new base on a 167,000-sq-ft site at Dubai’s new Al Maktoum International Airport (also known as Dubai World Central).
UK-based aircraft management and charter operator Twinjet Aviation is assessing several possible locations for a new base in the Arabian Gulf region. The company has appointed experienced charter broker Neil Turnbull to represent it and its sibling, The Charter Company, in the Middle East.
Emirates-CAE Flight Training signed contracts with Falcon Aviation Services and Elite Jets for customized pilot training at its Dubai facility. The arrangement with Elite Jets covers training on the Gulfstream G450 and Hawker 850XP. For Falcon Aviation, it will provide training for crews on Bell 412 helicopters.