As a market with a distinct preference for larger VIP and business aircraft, the Middle East has long been considered good sales territory for Airbus Corporate Jets (ACJs). Recent experience proves this with four more operators in the region having committed to swelling the local fleet.
Here in the United Arab Emirates, Gama Aviation has added introduced its first Airbus aircraft, an ACJ318 with a 14-seat cabin. This is managed on behalf of a private owner and is based at Sharjah International Airport.
UK-based Gama established its UAE aircraft operators certificate in February 2010 and manages five aircraft in the Middle East. Now it’s preparing to start offering maintenance services locally with the formation of a new subsidiary called Gama Support Services.
Another new ACJ operator in the region is Rizon Jet, which is based at Doha, Qatar. It is preparing to start operating an ACJ319 for its owner from 2013. The aircraft was recently delivered to an undisclosed completions center where the cabin interior is being installed.
Meanwhile, Jet Aviation’s Dubai operation recently took delivery of an ACJ318 to be operated by a private owner. And last month, Aviation Link announced that it is to manage a pair of new ACJ319s on behalf clients from it base in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Also in October, the Royal Air Force of Oman was revealed as another previously undisclosed customer.
The ACJ319s headed to Aviation Link are to be completed by the airframer’s own Airbus Corporate Jet Center (ACJC) in Toulouse, France. Designed by Francis Munch of France’s Studio E/motions, the cabins make full use of the extra space afforded by the ACJ and feature the latest available communication and in-flight entertainment systems including SatTV, WiFi and iPad remote controls. ACJC has now completed 18 VIP cabins for Airbus aircraft for customers from the Middle East, Asia and Europe. Other recent business in the region for ACJC came from the Sultanate of Oman’s Ministry of Defense, which just last month signed a maintenance deal covering the Royal Air Force of Oman’s ACJ320 fleet for the period from 2011 to 2013. The contract with ACJC includes C-checks for the service’s ACJ320s.
Airbus has restructured its efforts in the VIP and business aviation markets to bring all the various divisions involved under the new unified Airbus Corporate Jets organization. This includes ACJC, but also the programs division (which builds the aircraft), and the commercial and support departments. ACJ’s worldwide sales headquarters is here in Dubai.
According to Francois Chazelle, ACJ’s vice president for worldwide sales, the manufacturer also has had success selling VIP versions of its widebody airliners, which are branded as ACJs in this market. Most of the aircraft supplied have been versions of the A330 and A340, but it has also had orders for the flagship A380 and is offering the new A350XWB as well.
According to Airbus, the green delivery of the first VIP ACJ380 is “getting very close” even though the question of where the aircraft’s vast cabin interior will be completed is still unresolved. The owner is Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.
“Initially we were dealing with a lot of government clients in the Middle East, but more recently we have seen more and more private buyers,” Chazelle told AIN. In his view the ACJ318 has done well in this part of the world because it doesn’t have a direct competitor from the Boeing Business Jets stable and offers significantly more cabin space than “traditional” executive aircraft–an important consideration in a region where culturally large family groups travel together.
The ACJ318, 319 and 320 models can all fly nonstop from the Middle East to Europe and also can reach most of Asia. But another important factor for customers in this part of the world is the well-above-average space available for baggage.