Manufacturers and analysts agree that recent years have seen a vigorous increase in business aircraft operations in the Middle East and that the region is generating strong demand, even with other parts of the global economy stalled. However, detailed projections of this growth and the size of the current and predicted future fleets vary. According to Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA) founding chairman Ali Al Naqbi, the number of private aircraft operated in the Arab world will increase from around 450 today to 1,300 by 2020, with the addition of roughly 800 units over the next 10 years.
By contrast, Canadian business jet manufacturer Bombardier Aerospace said a a total of only 450 aircraft will be delivered in the period, taking the regional total to 730 aircraft at a compound annual growth rate of about 8 percent. In the next five years, the Middle East and selected African regions will account for about 4 percent of the projected more than 5,000 new aircraft-that is, approximately 200 units-needed for "traditional corporate and charter operator base," said Honeywell. In its latest market forecast, published in October, the engine and avionics manufacturer sees "high" confidence in intermediate- and long-term Middle Eastern economic growth. This will boost interest in larger, longer-range aircraft with better operating economics, said Honeywell, with more than 45 percent of prospective new Middle Eastern customers principally looking for greater range (Booth No. C638). About one in four operators surveyed are looking to replace older aircraft, while more than 20 percent cite requirements for greater speed or larger cabins.
Nevertheless, the region has "concerns over new duty-time restrictions, noise, and [the] cost of regulatory compliance," the report indicated.Having suffered much less from the recent global economic recession than did other geographical regions, the Arabian Gulf market and the broader Middle East area are important for business aircraft manufacturers. For example, Embraer used last year's international aerospace show here in Dubai to promote its entry-level Phenom 100, super mid-size Legacy 600 and Lineage 1000. The Brazilian manufacturer had had a much lower profile two shows previously, in 2005, when Embraer executive jets were much less well known and only the Legacy 600 was on offer.
This region is an example of a high gross domestic product (GDP) marketplace with "money to spend on business jets," said Embraer's Middle East executive aviation regional sales director Tony Fitzpatrick. For the Singapore-based Centre for Asia/Pacific Aviation (CAPA), Middle East business aviation is "one of the brightest spots" in the otherwise mixed fortunes of the global aviation sector. "The double-digit economic growth achieved in the region over the past five years is leading to a sizeable and highly active business-aviation market, along with the infrastructure to support it," the organization concluded in a recently published report.Between 2004 and 2008, the Middle East recorded significant economic growth, at an annual average rate of 6.5 percent, largely due to the wealth created by high oil prices, according to Bombardier (Chalet A11).
"The region entered the downturn in 2009 with significant financial reserves. Plummeting oil prices, tight international credit and the global economic slowdown contracted [local] real GDP by 0.2 percent," it reported. According to IHS Global Insight, the region is expected to have returned to positive economic growth in 2010, at an annual rate of 4.1 percent, driven by increasing oil revenues, and improving goods shipments to the European Union, its main trade partner. Looking further forward, Embraer (Chalet A15) foresees annual Middle East GDP growth recovering to about 5 percent during 2010-13, a modest decline from the 6- to 7-percent rate seen through most of the past decade.
Stimulated by such sustained recent economic growth, Middle East business aviation has rapidly expanded from 140 aircraft in the region in 2004 to some 335 at the end of 2009-an annual fleet growth rate of 19 percent. Bombardier sees the region becoming a significant contributor to business aviation expansion in emerging markets."In the late 1990s, there was just a single business and VIP jet operator in the entire region–Lebanon-based Arab Wings," said CAPA. By 2009, it reported, there were "approximately 25 operators, with this number [expected to] double by the end of 2010, with dozens of applications for new operators in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates [UAE] and Bahrain."
Today, aircraft based in Saudi Arabia and the UAE account for half of the Middle East fleet, which grew by almost 100 business aircraft during 2007-09, said Embraer, which has placed more than 20 Legacy 600s in that market. The more than 450 aircraft in the region registered with MEBAA (Booth No. E246) in 2009 will have increased to 500 by the end of this year, according to Al Naqbi.Embraer puts the 2009 fleet at 342 business jets, while Bombardier numbers the fleet at 335--the majority of which are flown by (or for) wealthy owners or charter firms, and about a quarter of which are less than four years old. CAPA reported that the "regional business- and VIP-aircraft fleet swelled from approximately 200 in 2000 to almost 450 aircraft" by 2009, representing annual growth of almost 13 percent. It confirmed that the UAE and Saudi Arabia are "the major pillars of business aviation in the region," and said "more than 65 percent" of their fleets are comprised of business jets and VIP aircraft.Given the region's economic and financial profile, it is no surprise that larger corporate aircraft figure prominently.
The Middle East fleet comprises mainly aircraft in "heavy-end categories," according to Embraer, with about 43 percent classified as "heavy," 47 percent "medium" and 10 percent "small." There is "probably nowhere else [with] 'heavy-metal' figures like this. There are a lot of big-sized aircraft. Smaller jets are not as popular. [Local operators] don't like small cabins," concluded the Brazilian manufacturer.