Some of the places in the world where business aviation is needed most are by their very nature some of the hardest places to provide and support this mode of transportation. It is a core paradox of the industry’s emerging markets, as frustrated service providers will attest.
The Middle East is one such region and, having tackled obstacles to business aviation growth in its own territory, Saudi Arabian-based Nexus Flight Operations Services has been spreading its wings into other challenging new markets, such as Africa and India. Beyond flight support, the company is expanding its operations into areas such as aircraft management, training, concierge services and emergency planning, in some cases in partnership with Western companies that have previously found these new markets too daunting to enter.
Nexus president and CEO Abdullah Al-Sayed has an insider’s view of both local business aviation consumers and those trying to serve them. After starting his career with the flight inspection division of the Saudi defense ministry and then moving to ground handling, management and maintenance group Arabasco, he served as director of flight operations for NetJets Middle East (as an employee of its local partner National Air Services). Subsequently he served in a similar role for Abu Dhabi-based Royal Jet and later for B-Jets, which was an attempt to introduce fractional ownership to India.
The idea for Nexus, which he launched in January 2010 with former NAS director Mohammed Al-Zeer, was to provide aircraft operators with comprehensive flight operations support. He invested almost $2 million in purpose-developed software (based on the AIMS system used by airlines such as Etihad and Gulf Air). After supporting its first flight in June 2010, the new company achieved a breakthrough by securing the business of the large flight department of the Saudi Aramco oil company–a goal that Al-Sayed had expected to take several years.
To ensure full redundancy, Nexus set up parallel operations centers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to ensure full redundancy. This turned out to be a prudent move when political demonstrations in Bahrain turned violent in February 2011, giving the company the option to shift staff to Saudi Arabia. Its main servers are housed in the U.S., providing an additional layer of technical security.
In May 2011, Nexus branched out into Africa by forging an alliance to form a flight support operation with the government-backed Rwandan Development Board. This started with a concierge service run from Jeddah, but by year-end the partners aim to have a flight operations support center up and running in the capital Kigali. “The target for the operations in India and Africa is that they become independent and are able to back up our other operations,” said Al-Sayed.
Earlier this year, Nexus stepped into another emerging market that Western flight support groups have struggled to get established in when it signed a partnership agreement with Mumbai-based handling and support group Sovika Airline Services to develop a network in India. Meanwhile, in Europe, Nexus is now finalizing a joint venture with France-based air transport logistics group Flytrans.
In addition to providing flight support, Nexus is managing more than 13 aircraft, including several Hawkers, Bombardier Challengers, Embraer Legacys, an Airbus ACJ and a Learjet 60. The company holds IS-BAO and IOSA certification, but has no plans to get a commercial air operator’s certificate. Al-Sayed told AIN that he does not want to get into the charter business because he doesn’t want any conflict of interest with the core task of serving private owners.
“In the past, I’ve spoken with owners who have told me that they are not happy with their aircraft being managed by companies offering charter because they don’t feel they are really on their own aircraft,” he said. The managed aircraft carry no Nexus branding, beyond a log in the flight operations manual, and the company prides itself on going to great lengths to personalize the cabins to match the personal preferences of each owner. This includes features such as unique crew uniforms for each aircraft and specially developed perfumes from London-based specialist Floris.
Nexus recruits pilots for the aircraft it operates, and also now does this for Saudi Aramco. It is also now providing flight support for airlines such as Cebu Pacific of the Philippines and India’s Spice Jet, as well as arranging aircraft delivery flights for carriers.
Providing flight support and aircraft management has quickly proved to be a strong business foundation for Nexus, but it also sees opportunities in addressing the clear need in regions such as the Middle East and Africa to provide training and safety audits. In its home market of Saudi Arabia this has coincided with a changing government policy that wants a greater emphasis on training local citizens in the country, rather than being so dependent on expatriate expertise and overseas training.
Through a partnership with Flight Safety International, Nexus has now graduated approximately 30 new flight dispatchers after conducting courses in Saudi Arabia with the U.S. training group’s own instructors. Earlier this year, Nexus signed an agreement with Arizona-based ServiceElements International for it to provide courses in Africa and the Middle East covering organizational resource management and other customer service-focused skills. These new training is expected to get under way next year.
Nexus also now has an exclusive alliance with safety audit group Argus International covering the Middle East and Africa. With the support of the U.S.-based group, Nexus is handling audits and safety management projects involving both business aircraft operations and airlines in these regions. In October, Qatar-based operator Rizon Jet received an Argus Platinum safety rating following audits conducted by Nexus.
“We are now seeing real growth in the Middle East, India and Africa and where there is difficulty there is opportunity,” concluded Al-Sayed. “These are tough markets but they will change. We are already seeing this in Saudi Arabia where economic change has forced the government to change regulations and be more open.”