The Middle East Business Aviation (MEBA) show will be staged for the first time at Dubai’s new Al Maktoum International Airport later this year (December 11-13). Organizers say the new location at what is also known as Dubai World Central will allow plenty of space for growth at a show that in 2010 attracted 338 exhibitors, 55 aircraft and 6,200 trade visitors. This year, MEBA will feature new enclaves highlighting helicopters, business airports and VIP aircraft interiors.
Arriving for this week’s EBACE show, MEBA organizer Fairs & Exhibitions (Stand 2341) announced that 60 percent of space for the 2012 event has been sold. “We are preparing for the fifth edition of MEBA to be the biggest yet, and given our new location we are excited about hosting the very first event at Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport,” commented Michele Van Akelijen, aerospace director for F&E Aerospace. “With such minimal travel times between popular hotel locations and our new venue, we foresee easy access for exhibitors and visitors alike, coming together at the region’s newest and biggest airport complex.”
Located close to the Jebel Ali port and industrial area, Al Maktoum International Airport is significantly further from the main city center area of Dubai than MEBA’s former site at Dubai International Airport. However, it is conveniently located from popular hotel locations such as Jumeirah Beach (30 minutes drive) and Dubai Marina (25 minutes). It is also closer to Abu Dhabi, which is fast emerging as a hive of business aviation activity in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The show’s exhibition and static display will be staged in what remains for now the only completed terminal building at Al Maktoum International Airport. The use of the new airport for the event will likely focus discussion during the show on the vexed question of when or if business aviation will transfer operations from the existing Dubai International Airports. Other topics will include concerns over illegal charter activity in the Arabian Gulf and whether the Middle Eastern bizav fleet will diversify from its current leaning toward larger aircraft.
Ten Percent Larger
Ali Al Naqbi, chairman of the Middle East Aviation Association (MEBAA), told AIN that he expects this year’s MEBA show to be about 10 percent larger than the 2010 edition. Fairs & Exhibitions organizes the event in partnership with MEBAA.
According to the association, the region’s business aviation market is growing at 10 to 12 percent a year, although precise data are difficult to obtain due to the strong preference for privacy on the part of aircraft owners and operators.
Some 530 private aircraft are registered in the Gulf Cooperation Council states, and around 500 more are owned by locals but are registered in Europe or the U.S. for operation in the region. The executive/private charter market in the Middle East is worth more than $500 million annually, estimated Al Naqbi. “The UAE and Saudi Arabia represent 70 percent of the business, shared 50-50, by market size,” he said.
Congestion at DXB
Slot and parking congestion at Dubai International continues to increase, largely due to unabated growth in airline traffic at the ambitious hub. MEBAA is encouraging the long-term move of business jet operators to Al Maktoum, although clarity on this issue has yet to emerge.
In the wake of serious financial problems impacting first and foremost state-backed Dubai World development group and its real estate subsidiary Nakheel, Dubai Airports has failed to act decisively over the completion of Al Maktoum International and on the timetable for transferring operations. Al Naqbi said facilities are not yet in place to allow such a transfer. “I don’t have a date when [the move will take place],” he said. “It’s a collective decision that will be brought to Sheikh Ahmed [president of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority]. We don’t need to have a very complicated facility. We could [work] with a small terminal.”
Al Naqbi sees cases of business aircraft operators waiting six hours for takeoff slots at Dubai International. In some cases, this is inspiring operators to vote with their feet by moving operations to Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi, a viable alternative to Dubai. These include: Falcon Aviation, Al Jaber Aviation, Prestige Jet and Rotana Jet. Among the charter operators expected to be prominent at this year’s MEBA show, MEBAA expects Saudia Private Aviation to expand its fleet of eight aircraft to around 40 by 2020.
The so-called gray market for illegal charter flights was discussed at a business aviation session at the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi on April 17, which also tackled the difficulty of selling small jets in the region. Citing market analysts, MEBAA has concluded that of the 550 business aircraft based in the Middle East, nearly 90 percent are mid- or large-size jets, while the worldwide average is only 60 percent.