With the Bush Administration pushing to wage war on Iraq, some Middle Eastern business and VIP aircraft operators are now reluctant to come to the U.S. for maintenance, refurbishment and modification work. But here on the NBAA exhibition floor, opinions among service providers were divided as to how strong a factor this has become.
Eugen Hartl, head of program management and sales with Jet Aviation’s Basel, Switzerland completions center, told NBAA Convention News that Middle Eastern operators are definitely avoiding the U.S., fearing an anti-Arab backlash. In his opinion, they are taking work to European facilities instead and these now have more capacity than they did a year or two ago.
Chris Nicholls, sales and marketing v-p with UK-based cabin management and entertainment system maker IEC International, said that Middle Eastern customers are staying away from U.S. engineering centers out of concern that if war breaks out in their region, their aircraft may get trapped in America.
But U.S. companies here in Orlando this week steadfastly denied that they are losing Middle Eastern business in the ongoing world political and security crisis.
Tony Gilbert, v-p of international marketing with Duncan Aviation, said it still has many Arab customers, including the Egyptian government and some Saudi Arabian aircraft owners. The Lincoln, Neb.-based company has just appointed Jordan-based Faisal Haddadin as its Middle East sales agent. “This is not a major consideration as most owners there are experienced international travelers and many of the crew are Americans or Europeans,” he said. “There might be some operators who might think it could be easier to get work done in Europe, but not many.”
Haddadin stressed that opinions over the current crisis are just as divided in the Middle East as they are here in the U.S. “There has been too much focus on the negative aspects of this situation and not enough on the positive views that there are in the region [i.e. the Middle East],” he concluded.
St Louis, Mo.-based Midcoast Aviation also reported no negative feedback from Middle Eastern customers. A spokesman for the Associated Air Center in Dallas said that one Saudi customer had been nervous about keeping his airplane in the U.S right after 9/11, but that the situation has since “calmed down” and is now “not a problem.”