Gama Aviation’s new operating base at Geneva Airport has its first aircraft in place, a Gulfstream GV. The UK-based group’s Swiss air operators certificate (AOC) should be approved by July and the company expects to add other jets to the locally based managed fleet, with significant numbers of owners still drawn to the Swiss aircraft registry.
Overall, the private jet charter/management sector in Europe remains flat, according to Gama Group CEO Marwan Khalek. “Given that the business typically mirrors GDPs [gross domestic products], we will have to assume that it will be flat or only very slightly on the up in Europe for some time to come,” he told AIN.
By contrast, the U.S. market, where Gama (Booth 1155) has a sizable operation, has shown improved levels of demand. Importantly, given the prolonged uncertainty the industry has faced, Khalek said this trend has been consistent over the last six to nine months. “The fluctuations in North America are reducing and there is now an upward trend there,” he observed.
Meanwhile, Gama has continued to increase its market share in the Middle East, where it has made significant investments in a United Arab Emirates’ AOC and an FBO with maintenance capability at Sharjah. “We’ve made pleasing progress in the Middle East by gaining new business but, as a whole, the market there is mirroring the European trend in that there is very little underlying growth,” said Khalek.
Further away in the Far East, Gama, like many rivals, has found it a tough region to break into but it has persisted with its local operation based in Hong Kong. “We are still seeing significant growth [in charter demand] and aircraft deliveries [requiring management services], so this definitely remains a market we want to be established in,” said Khalek.
Like many the top management at many leading business aviation services groups, Khalek faces dilemmas in terms of which of these various markets merit the most time and investment. “But I’m lucky to have a good team and they all focus on particular markets and regions to help us move forward,” he said.
Another new project for Gama is the construction of an FBO at Glasgow Airport in Scotland. This was prompted by the renewal of a fleet management contract from the Scottish Ambulance Service for up to another 10 years, with the requirement that it provide improved infrastructure on the ground. “We don’t really have specific plans to expand in the handling business, but it would be remiss of us not to leverage this new facility to provide third-party service to other operators,” Khalek explained. Gama’s new Glasgow base will be covered by its Part 145 maintenance approval, allowing it to technically support aircraft at the site.
Maintenance has become an increasingly important part of Gama’s service portfolio, especially since its acquisition of the former Mann Aviation Group business at Fairoaks Airport, close to its own headquarters at the London-area Farnborough Airport. In revenue terms, maintenance services now account for about one quarter of its UK business.
“We want to grow that more because we’ve been well received in that market segment,” said Khalek. In particular, Gama intends to expand its Part 21 aircraft modification activity and it may seek authorized service center status with one or more aircraft manufacturers.
“We continue to look long-term at this business, especially since we are celebrating our 30th anniversary this year,” said Khalek. “We’ve made substantial investments and this has never been a short-term game for us, and the willingness to invest is something that we believe has become a market differentiator. Too many people have tried to commoditize this business and if you do that, you are left only with price as a differentiator. The mature companies are still investing and I think we will still see more consolidation [with less well-established firms leaving the market].”