The business aviation market in the Middle East is now at a crucial stage in its development and is poised to reach an annual value of $1 billion by 2018, according to Ali Al Naqbi, founding chairman of the Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA). Al Naqbi was speaking at a roundtable meeting for MEBAA members held in Dubai last Thursday. “Constant dialogue and knowledge-sharing among the various stakeholders is key to removing operational bottlenecks and steering the industry towards long-term sustained growth,” Al Naqbi said.
The so-called grey market of potentially illegal charters was highlighted as being a major concern for MEBAA. “It’s an education thing,” said Anthony Frances, partner at law firm Gates & Partners, who added that he hoped the issue didn’t flare up because of an accident involving a company that doesn’t hold an air operator’s certificate.
“That’s the biggest concern,” echoed Mike Berry, managing director of ExecuJet Middle East. “All the good work can be undone by one incident.”
“It’s about bringing the market to realize that the added cost of management fees is worth it,” said Dave Edwards, managing director of Gama Aviation. He suggested that the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) now look at economic regulation of operators. “If there are cash constraints, safety is the first thing to suffer,” he asserted.
Alex Berry, group executive sales and marketing for charter broker Chapman Freeborn, said he would prefer it if GCAA encouraged operators to build multiple-aircraft fleets, as he has found that these types of operators tend to be more reliable and offer better quality. “It’s incumbent on the licensing authority to [say to single-aircraft operators], don’t do it on your own,” he said. The extra cost of management fees to a larger operator “is going to pay off.”
All the participants agreed that MEBAA plays an important role in promoting business aviation in the MENA region. “The key issue is MEBAA educating the public,” said Alex Berry, who recommended that MEBAA members coordinate their strategy to help future Middle East customers understand the benefits of business aviation. “Everything is driven by demand, and we have to set our sights higher,” added Berry.
Louis Sorrentino, vice president of consultancy ICF SH&E, and Gulf Wings managing director Khaldoun Ghalayini, held forth on the subject of human factors and training during the roundtable’s second session. Ghalayini noted that last September the UAE GCAA decided that it was no longer possible for pilots to freelance, and that they must work for a single operator. This, he said, is causing problems because it takes at least 60 days to get a new pilot on board, and if it is necessary to replace a pilot who doesn’t fit the company or is having trouble, “that [causes] a lot of difficulty for us.”
While Ghalayini admitted that Gulf Wings hadn’t approached MEBAA for help with this issue, Al Naqbi encouraged him to tap the association’s resources. “We do have some ability [to help],” he said. “You have to put MEBAA to the test.”