The fourth Middle East Business Aviation (MEBA) show is off to a strong start, with exhibitor numbers climbing more than 40 percent from 2008 and registered visitors topping the 7,000 mark, up from 5,500. But this could be the show's last staging here in Dubai for the time being, with plans being made to relocate the event to another prime location in the Arabian Gulf.
Alison Weller, managing director of show organizer F&E Aerospace, which is producing the show for the Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA), said that 53 aircraft are on display in the static park next to the Dubai Airport Expo and that MEBA is now the third largest business aviation show in the world, behind the annual NBAA and EBACE shows in the U.S. and Europe, respectively. This year, there are 338 exhibitors from 33 countries, up from 250 in 2008.
The business aviation market has climbed in the past two years, too, she said, with the Middle East fleet growing to 450 turboprops and jets, up from 359. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have the largest numbers of business aircraft, with 157 in each country. In the UAE, that number was 78 two years ago.
"There's going to be a huge increase in the number of regional buyers and [business aviation] users visiting the show," Weller said. "Through the work of MEBAA and the event that we host every two years we've helped to create awareness of business aviation in this part of the world."
Some highlights for this year's MEBA show include the first appearance here of the Embraer Lineage 1000, which was the first such jet delivered in the Middle East when it entered service last year for H.E. Saeed Abdul Jalil Al Fahim, chairman of Al Fahim Group of Abu Dhabi. The Lineage is managed by Prestige Jets.
"Another growth market and very new since the last show is the expansion of commercial airlines into business aviation," Weller said, "particularly here in the Middle East. Three are exhibiting, Saudia Private Aviation, Qatar Executive and Lufthansa Private Jets."
Another good sign, she said, is that a large proportion of the more than 15 FBOs exhibiting at MEBA are from the Middle East. "Without these [FBOs], owners and operators would have many more hurdles to cross in order to fly around this part of the world."
Weller credits the work of organizations like the National Business Aviation Association, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and MEBAA with communicating how valuable business aviation is to companies of all sizes and not just the senior management but for employees of all levels.
"This industry is known for its heights of luxury," she said. "But it's easy to forget or dismiss the use of business aircraft for medevac operations, such as organ transplants, for all those communities who've lost their airline service and are reliant on the charter services as their only option and for those devastated by natural disasters, when these aircraft can be called upon to have the flexibility to help out on a moment's notice."
The rapid growth of MEBA could mean that the show will appear at a new venue two years from now. The dates for the next show are December 11 to 13, 2012, but the venue has not yet been finalized, according to Ali Al Naqbi, founding chairman of MEBA. "MEBA was born to move around the Middle East," he said. "We are very grateful to Dubai for hosting our first four and maybe the fifth one. As soon as we have the right venue and the right place and after getting approved, we will be moving. So far we haven't seen better than our current venue. And that's why we continue holding it here. We have a couple of requests and are evaluating those requests."
Though not officially confirmed, Abu Dhabi's Al Bateen Executive Airport is widely viewed as the frontrunner as the next venue for MEBA. The airport is being extensively redeveloped and benefits from a city center location.