The latest edition of the Middle East Business Aviation (Meba) show provided a vivid snapshot of the region’s business aviation industry. There is still tangible growth coming through, albeit at a markedly slower rate than had been seen before the global financial crisis washed up on some parts of the Arabian Gulf’s shores. Equally, it is clear that business aviation is spreading more widely throughout the region and that infrastructure and the locally run element of the sector is getting stronger in that part of the world.
The event, held at Dubai Airport Expo from December 7 to 9, was effectively the fourth staging of Meba (the first show having been no more than a one-day conference as part of the larger Dubai Air Show in 2005). It made a strong showing, with exhibitor numbers climbing more than 40 percent from 2008. The number of visitors reached 6,200–just over 12 percent up on 2008’s tally of 5,500 but below the anticipated number of 7,000.
This might prove to have been the show’s last staging in Dubai for the time being, with consideration now being given to relocating the event to another prime location in the Arabian Gulf. Abu Dhabi’s new Al Bateen Executive Airport is under consideration as a possible venue for the next show (December 11 to 13, 2012).
The 2010 exhibitor count reached 338 (from 33 countries)–up from 250 in 2008. These exhibitors include two Middle East airlines that have moved into the business aircraft charter sector since the last Meba show: Saudia and Qatar Airways, with their respective Saudia Private Aviation and Qatar Executive operations.
The number of aircraft on the static display actually fell to 53 from the 70 or so that came to Meba 2008. However, this year’s roster did include types making their debut in the Middle East, such as the Embraer Legacy 650.
The exhibitor list also featured a strong contingent of FBOs from around the Middle East region, reflecting the ongoing expansion of infrastructure to support business aircraft operations. In addition to the new Al Bateen Executive Airport, these included the following: Cedar Jet Centre (Beirut, Lebanon); Rizon Jet’s new FBO in the Qatari capital, Doha; Jet Aviation’s locations in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dubai; ExecuJet in Dubai; and Arabasco in Jeddah. Gama Aviation announced plans for a new FBO at Sharjah in the UAE and JP Jets confirmed it is close to completing construction of a new private terminal at Aqaba’s King Hussein International Airport in Jordan.
Flight planning and support specialist Nexus announced the opening of two new flight operations centers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Manama, Bahrain. The company, which is a subsidiary of MAZ Aviation, has also launched a new joint venture with FlightSafety International to provide training for flight dispatchers in the Middle East. It also has another new agreement to provide security support to operators through U.S. group FAM International.
Middle East Fleet Grows
The Meba show provided tangible evidence of a growing and more active business aircraft fleet in the Middle East. According to show organizer F&E Aerospace, the business aviation market has climbed in the past two years, with the Middle East fleet growing to 450 turboprops and jets, up from 359. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have the largest numbers of business aircraft, with 157 in each country. In the UAE, that number was 78 two years ago.
Doha-based Rizon Jet confirmed that it has been chosen to operate a new Airbus Corporate Jetliner on behalf of an owner in the Arabian Gulf region. This will be the largest aircraft to date in the operator’s fleet, which currently consists of six jets.
Comlux Aviation announced an order for a pair of Bombardier’s new Global 7000s, to be operated for charter on behalf of undisclosed management customers. The long-range capability that the 7000 delivers makes the aircraft a key element of the Switzerland-based operator’s expansion plans into the Middle East, where there is strong demand for intercontinental flights. In November, Comlux opened a new base in Bahrain.
The Global 7000 order, valued at $130 million, was part of a wider new business announcement from Bombardier that was worth a collective $285 million. German charter group Jet Air signed a contract to buy five Learjet 85s and a pair of Challenger 605s.
Arab Wings announced the addition of an Embraer Legacy 650 to its fleet. This is the first of its type in the Middle East and the delivery to the Amman, Jordan-based operator was made just before the Meba show.
One undisclosed customer took delivery of an extraordinary VIP version of Lockheed’s L-100/C-130 Hercules military transport on the first day of Meba (but not at the show site). The conversion and design work was done by Saudi Arabia’s Alsalam Aircraft. It heralds the start of a new partnership between Alsalam and MAZ Aviation to design, modify and manufacture VIP aircraft cabins.
New Hot-Spot in Qatar
Zurich-based ExecuJet Aviation announced plans to set up a new charter and aircraft management operation in Qatar in a bid to expand its footprint in the growing Middle Eastern market. On the eve of the Meba show, the company sealed an agreement with Doha-based Al-Faisal Holdings, which will be its local partner in the new venture.
The business aviation services group has already begun the process to apply for an air operator’s certificate (AOC) in Qatar. The new ExecuJet Qatar operation should be up and running before the end of the first quarter of next year. The first aircraft in its new charter/management fleet is expected to be a Bombardier Global 5000.
According to Mike Berry, managing director of ExecuJet Middle East, the new operation’s next step will be to build an FBO in Qatar. This will be located at the New Doha International Airport, which is due to open in July.
“We have long been keeping an eye on Qatar as one of the next hot spots for business aviation in this region,” Berry told AIN.
Support Network Expands
ExecuJet Aviation’s Dubai facility has become a key facet of aircraft manufacturers’ efforts to increase product support capability in the Middle East region. At the Meba show, it was appointed a new authorized service center for Embraer. This follows its recent appointment to the same position with Hawker Beechcraft, as part of a global agreement that will also see ExecuJet support Hawker and King Air operators in Africa and Australia.
Bombardier, for which ExecuJet Dubai is also an authorized service center, announced the opening of a new regional support office in Dubai for its Global, Challenger and Learjet series.
Dassault Falcon announced the appointment of Bernard Delouye as the new customer service manager to support its customers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Syria. He will be based in Jeddah.