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Middle East Business Aviation: Middle East business fleet expands apace

 - December 6, 2006, 12:59 PM

The number of business jets registered in Middle Eastern countries has grown by about one-fifth over the past 10 years. By the standards of other still emerging markets like Europe (45 percent growth over the same period), the Middle East’s 18-percent fleet growth doesn’t inspire awe. It does, however, dwarf the 8-percent hike seen in Asia–a market over which most business aircraft makers salivate.

But these figures from London-based aircraft data specialist Airclaims tell only part of the story because they ignore the significant number of aircraft owned by Middle Eastern companies and individuals registered outside the region. Take a look through the national aircraft registries of countries like Switzerland, Bermuda, the U.S. and the Cayman Islands and you’ll soon appreciate one of the key characteristics of Middle Eastern business aviation: it keeps an extremely low profile.

Airclaims data released to Aviation International News last month show jet registrations in 15 Middle East states rising steeply around the turn of the 21st century before resuming a steady progression. At the end of 2000, records showed 204 registered jets. Over the course of the following year the total climbed to 221 before edging up to 229 units at the end of last year. In fact, even more recent statistics showing jet registrations through the end of August reveal that six more jets have arrived this year, taking the current total to 235.

At first glance, there appears little in these rather pedestrian jet registration figures to support the belief that the Middle East will become an oasis of business aviation prosperity. But closer examination of the data tells another story that bears out the long-held contention that the region’s customer base will expand as locals buy into the notion of the business aircraft as a purely pragmatic tool of commerce. The trend reveals itself in the rise of the number of purpose-built business jets in the region, as compared with gilt-edged converted airliners.

Bizjet builders have markedly increased their market presence in the Middle East. Factoring in the Aug. 31, 2005, registration data, Gulfstream now has 52 jets in the region, followed by Bombardier (29), Dassault (28), Cessna (13) and Raytheon (5). In fact, adding the heritage British Aerospace 125/Hawker series to Raytheon’s cluster takes the U.S. airframer’s total to 18 jets (with Raytheon having bought BAe’s business jet line back in 1994).

Even the market’s newcomer, Embraer, has placed one of its Legacy jets in Kuwait. New arrivals to the region include Gulfstream’s G550, G400 and G300 models; Cessna’s Citation Bravo, XLS, Sovereign and Excel; Dassault’s Falcon 900EX; Raytheon’s Beechjet 400A; and Bombardier’s Global 5000, Challenger 300 and Learjet 45.

Those manufacturers now account for almost 55 percent of aircraft delivered to the Middle East, a trend that has diluted the complete fleet dominance by VIP-configured airliners a decade ago. Only Gulfstream and Dassault held any meaningful market share in 1995 and the intervening years have seen the withdrawal of other out-of-production types such as the Lockheed JetStar, the Rockwell Sabreliner and the older British Aerospace 125s.

Importantly though, Boeing, which has added the Boeing Business Jet family to its airliner-class VIP portfolio over the past decade, still accounts for almost a quarter of the Middle East’s executive/royal fleet, with 55 aircraft. Even Airbus, with just 14 aircraft in the segment, has boosted its market presence over the period.

Accounting for half of the Middle East’s jet registrations, Saudi Arabia continues to dominate the region’s business aviation fleet. But the total has barely fluctuated by more than half a dozen aircraft over the past 10 years, suggesting that the deeply conservative country may not represent the market’s most fertile territory for the future. Saudi Arabia currently has registered 100 jets, down from its 2002 peak of 106 units.

The United Arab Emirates holds second place in the region with 32 jets–approaching three times the dozen aircraft registered in the country in 1995. It has added four aircraft to the registry since the end of last year. Bahrain, Egypt, Iran and Israel boast the Middle East’s other double-digit bizjet fleets.

Further evidence of the Middle East’s growth potential for business jet sales comes from Airclaims’ tally of average aircraft ages. The average age for the whole region now stands just shy of 17 years–almost two and a half years older than the average in 1995. Unsurprisingly, the region’s geriatric jets are to be found in Iran (average age 28.89 years), Iraq (26.38), Lebanon (31.75) and Syria (23).