Dubai Air Show

Abu Dhabi’s Royal Jet joins Skyjet network

 - December 11, 2006, 5:20 AM

Abu Dhabi-based business aircraft operator Royal Jet yesterday signed up as an operator for Bombardier’s Skyjet International fixed-rate charter service. Customers will have access to Royal Jet’s newly delivered Challenger 300 business jet and to the rest of its fleet if it is not available. In the future, any new a Bombardier business aircraft added to Royal Jet’s fleet will become part of Skyjet.

After having struggled to enter the business of private air charter, Royal Jet has now surpassed the expectations of its business plan, Ali Al Naqbi, the company’s founder and Amiri Flight’s director for finance and administration, said here on Saturday at the Middle East Business Aviation (MEBA) conference. Instead of the planned five, the operator’s fleet is now nine-aircraft strong.

Early in 2000, Abu Dhabi’s Amiri Flight and Abu Dhabi Aviation saw an opportunity in business aviation. A feasibility study showed that top-end jet charter needs were partially satisfied by non-Middle Eastern aircraft. But several challenges emerged, including the scarce availability of statistics. In addition, local banks were more than reluctant to finance aircraft. The shareholders finally paid for 100 percent of the purchase instead of the planned 30 percent.

Obtaining an air operator’s certificate took six months of efforts that succeeded in May 2003, Al Naqbi said. A very conservative “exit option” had been designed. “We had 18 months to shut down,” Al Naqbi said. During that trial period, there were 39 employees and three aircraft–one leased Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) and two Gulfstream 300s. In case of failure, the former could have been returned, while the latter two could have been bought back under an agreement with the U.S.-based business jet manufacturer. The funds could have been returned to the shareholders.

Today, some 5,000 hours are flown annually (compared with 1,000 in 2003). Royal Jet employs 250 persons and revenues stand at $35 million per year. The fleet is now made up of nine aircraft, the most recent additions having been a Bell/Agusta AB139 helicopter and the Bombardier Challenger 300 business jet–both delivered during the show. The operator expects to use the Challenger 800 to 1,000 hours annually to regional destinations like Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. An Avro RJ70 jet and a Eurocopter Dauphin helicopter, both under management contracts, are to join the fleet next.

Bombardier’s Skyjet International fixed-rate executive charter program has achieved 30 percent growth since it was introduced nine months ago as a relaunch of the previous Flexjet service.

The program is available for flights within and between four regions of the world: North America, Europe, Asia/Pacific and the Middle East. There are now 17 aircraft serving Skyjet customers in the Middle East, including the Learjet 60, as well as members of the Challenger and Global Express families. In addition to Royal Jet, the program’s partner operators are Bexair (Bahrain), Qatar Airways (Qatar), ExecuJet Middle East (Dubai) and Cirrus Aviation (Beirut).

According to Skyjet managing director Judith Moreton, there are expected to be 20 aircraft based in the Middle East by the end of this year as the existing operators receive new equipment. From an office in Dubai, the Middle East operation covers a service area that extends west-east from Egypt to India and south-north from Yemen to Uzbekistan.

Moreton believes rising demand for executive charter in the Middle East is being driven by a growing number of younger generation entrepreneurs who take a more pragmatic view of what business aircraft can achieve and are less bound by conservative social conventions that have deterred their widespread use here. She added that growing international investment both within the Middle East and by businesses from this region in other parts of the world is also leading to increased charter bookings.