Gulfstream has a fleet of more than 100 business aircraft owned and operated in the Arabian Gulf region, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) representing strong customer bases in the large-cabin market.
“Both of them take the lion’s share of the airplanes,” Trevor Esling, Gulfstream’s regional senior vice president of international sales for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told AIN at the Abu Dhabi Air Expo. “We have around 55 percent of the large-cabin market here. It has always been a strong Gulfstream market, particularly in both those territories.”
The U.S. airframer has found the Middle East to be fertile territory for sales of its new large-cabin, long-range G650. “Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been big adopters of the 650, and they already have large numbers of [our] airplanes here in the region,” said Esling. “We have quite a number of orders and we’ll deliver them in the next two years.”
According to Esling, Gulfstream had enjoyed success in selling aircraft to heads of state, wealthy individuals and private companies. “The majority of business here is in the large-cabin market–the 450, 550 and 650–that’s where we concentrate most of our efforts. That market remains pretty strong,” said Esling. “We don’t have a whole lot of airplanes in the charter market here in the Middle East or, in fact, in Western Europe. Gulfstreams tend to be much more of a private aeroplane than a charter aircraft. Obviously they are available, but not in the same numbers as some of our competitors. There’s no G650 available for charter in the whole of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. They are all privately owned.”
Africa and the Middle East Prove Fertile Markets
Turning to Africa, Esling said Nigeria has witnessed explosive growth of late. Today, the country has approximately 170 private jets in operation, with Gulfstream enjoying around 10 percent of the market. “The big market in Africa is Nigeria at the moment. It has outgrown South Africa by some way, at least in terms of new aircraft sales. I think the population of aircraft in South Africa is still larger, but really Nigeria has come on extremely strongly. It’s a lot like the Russian market, in the sense that there is a concentration of long-distance, wide-cabin aeroplanes, typically maintained and operated by a Western European AOC holder on a foreign register.
“The Nigerian market is by far and away the most exciting from an African perspective. We have something like 17 Gulfstreams there,” said Esling.
But with so much potential, the Middle East is clearly uppermost in Esling’s mind. “The UAE is a good market for us. Abu Dhabi has certainly become a strong market for business jets. Royal Jet is a well known operator of our airplanes and there are other aeroplanes here that are privately operated.
“The Middle East market continues to show maturity. Over the last 15 to 20 years there has been a steady progression in the market, more acceptance of business aviation, growth in aviation infrastructure, more maturity with regard to business aircraft. People like MEBAA [the Middle East Business Aviation Association] and others have worked really hard to get the word out there about business aviation and I think that’s a good thing for the future. I see the market continuing to grow.”
Some industry players complain that while the Middle East has seen consolidation, a new threat is now looming from the invasion of European players. “A general fact of any of the markets these days is competition, whether it’s aircraft sales or aircraft operations,” concluded Esling. “And obviously there are some legal constraints as to how those European operators can move in here and how they can operate in the area. There is a lot of competition and it will continue to be an international market.”