Dubai Air Show

Charter companies feast on bizav bounty

 - November 8, 2007, 2:42 AM

The impressive growth of business aviation in the Middle East hasn’t excluded the region’s executive charter companies, some of which have been enjoying their most lucrative stretch  ever. Awash in available capital, they’ve not only added equipment and new markets, they’ve begun expanding into related businesses such as FBOs and maintenance services.

Royal Jet (Stand C130), for one, recently took delivery of its fifth Boeing Business Jet to help satisfy its ambitions to penetrate markets beyond the Middle East–including Europe, India, China and Russia. According to new CEO Shane O’Hare, Royal Jet has achieved growth of around 25 to 30 percent over the past year, much of it driven by BBJ activity.

The Abu Dhabi-based operator’s fleet also comprises two Bombardier Learjet 35s and a 55, a pair of Gulfstream G300s and a VIP-configured BAE Systems’ Avro RJ. The fifth BBJ is the second of the aircraft to join the fleet through financing arrangements made by the First Gulf Bank.

Royal Jet is expanding its workforce at a time when it faces stiff competition for skilled flight crews from fast-growing air carriers, such as Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi. The company currently employs around 300 people, about one third of whom are pilots and cabin crew. An additional 40 to 50 people work for its in-house maintenance operation. It also runs its own FBO at Abu Dhabi International Airport.

According to new Abu Dhabi-based operator Prestige Jet (Stand E411), demand for charter flights by Russian clients could soon account for up to 25 percent of its total business. The ever-increasing disposable income of newly wealthy Russians is very evident here in the UAE, and Prestige is able to offer flights to and from Russia with its Bombardier Challenger 604 and 601.

Meanwhile, Bahrain-based executive charter firm Bexair (Stand E730) is also in growth mode and recently committed to increasing its fleet size to double digits with an order for a new Bombardier Challenger 605, which it will manage for a private owner. The aircraft is expected to be delivered in July 2009. The company also is preparing to open several new international bases and wants to develop as a business aviation services group.

Bexair’s current fleet consists of three Bombardier Challenger 604 aircraft and a 601, a pair of Embraer Legacy 600s, as well as three Cessna Citation XLSs and a Citation Excel. It operates one of the Legacys on behalf of the Kuwait-based Middle Eastern subsidiary of major international telecommunications group Vodafone.

Bexair chief of marketing and strategy Faisal Alam told AIN that each of the aircraft currently operated averages up to 1,200 flight hours per year in the fast-growing Arabian Gulf market for business and private charter. The growth in Bexair’s charter business has been driven entirely by demand by private individuals and local and international businesses. The company does not do any flying for the region’s wealthy royal families, and Alam said this is entirely consistent with how the Middle East charter market is diversifying in terms of customer base.

In addition to flights within the Gulf region, many of Bexair’s flights are to North African countries such as Tunisia and Morocco, where Arab business people are increasingly making substantial investments. The operator also flies to popular vacation destinations such as the Indian Ocean islands of the Seychelles, the Maldives and to Malaysian destinations.

The next step for Bexair is to open a maintenance facility, and it has the support of the Bahraini government to build a new hangar at Bahrain International Airport. The company intends to become an authorized service center for a major business aircraft manufacturer. It also wants to make itself more self-sufficient in terms of maintenance support to eliminate the need to fly its aircraft to Europe for service and support.

Since 2002, Bexair has operated a full-service FBO in Bahrain. In May, it announced plans to invest a further $10 million in developing the facility.

It also works closely with sister company Aaelco (Arabian Aircraft and Equipment Leasing Co.) to set up financing for new business aircraft owners.
The Dubai Air Show exhibitor list features a healthy crop of the Middle East’s business aviation service providers. In addition to the above companies, it includes Arab Wings (Stand E536), Dana Executive Jets (Stand E704), Eastern Skyjets (Stand C115), Elite Jets (Stand C234), Jordanian Private Jets (Stand E526) and National Air Services (Stand E300).