EBACE Convention News

UK charter company plans fleet expansion

 - April 28, 2010, 7:37 AM

Gama Aviation (Booth No. 141) reached an important milestone in its global expansion plan by gaining an air operator’s certificate from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in February. The UK-based group secured the AOC in barely six months, having applied for it in June 2009. It operates from a new base at Sharjah International Airport and has a sales office in Dubai.

The company has been in business for 27 years, quietly establishing itself as one of the largest players in the aircraft charter and management sector with a fleet of 75 aircraft. It also has operations on three continents, having moved into the North American market by acquiring PrivatAir’s U.S. division in early 2008.

Gama’s fleet is extremely diverse, and includes examples from almost every business aircraft manufacturer that range in size from a Hawker Beechcraft King Air twin turboprop to a Boeing Business Jet. Most of the aircraft are under management contracts, but Gama itself owns some–a position that managing director Dave Edwards told AIN means, “We really understand the need to manage costs.”

The company expects to add a few more aircraft this summer, with the goal of coming out of the recession operating more than it did when the downturn began. After a period in which charter demand dipped by about 40 percent overall, Edwards sees signs of gradual recovery with more charter inquiries being converted into firm bookings.

“We are starting to see people coming back to charter from fractional ownership,” said Edwards. He has been surprised by how many charter operators have survived the downturn, he said, but he predicts that not all will make it through another 12 months or so of flat growth.

Gama’s unashamedly conservative approach to the market has been to hold out for what it views as commercially viable charter rates rather than take the slash-and-burn approach favored by others who try to win business at almost any cost. “I would rather take 400 hours [per aircraft annually] than have 800 hours at rates that are below what it costs to operate the aircraft,” he explained.

Edwards is based in UAE to establish the new Arabian Gulf operation. He feels that
market has great potential for growth but is currently somewhat depressed–a situation he feels is driving other operators to take the shortsighted approach of cutting charter rates too aggressively.

Gama has gone to the Middle East with a long-term vision and its fleet currently consists of a Bombardier Challenger 604, a 605 and an 850. By the end of this year, it hopes to have secured the CAR 145 approval it needs to be able to offer maintenance support in the UAE. Eventually, it would like to establish a full-service FBO at Sharjah, having already moved into the FBO sector in the U.S.

Edwards views low-key Sharjah International Airport as a hidden gem, which is why it is about to break ground for a 129,000-sq-ft facility there. The emirate’s more ostentatious neighbor Dubai is building another major international airport to which some business aviation firms are being drawn, but Gama feels Sharjah could ultimately prove to be a more convenient gateway to Dubai’s city center.

Gama already has a European Part 145 maintenance operation at its London-area Farnborough Airport headquarters, as well as a U.S. Part 145 shop at its Stratford, Connecticut operation. In addition to providing line maintenance for its own fleet, it also provides third-party support for aircraft up to the size of the Learjet family.

The company also holds Part 21 design and manufacturing approval, which it uses for projects such as avionics installations.