Abu Dhabi charter firm looks toward management

 - December 6, 2006, 1:09 PM

The rapid growth of Abu Dhabi-based executive charter group Royal Jet paints a vivid illustration of the pace of business aviation expansion in the Middle East. The company started life just two years ago with a single Boeing Business Jet and its fleet has since grown by three more BBJs, two Gulfstream 300s and a Bombardier Challenger 300.

Royal Jet sees aircraft management contracts as a key growth path for business aviation in the Middle East. To wit, next month it starts managing a BAE Systems Avro RJ70 jetliner for a private client, who will offset some of his costs by allowing Royal Jet to use the airplane for charter flights. Next, the company plans to add three more aircraft to its charter fleet by early next year. However, as of early October, it had still not confirmed its final choices.

Royal Jet has also opened a sales office in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as well as in Dubai and Kuwait. The company started in May 2003 as a joint venture between Abu Dhabi’s head-of-state Amiri Flight and local charter operator Abu Dhabi Aviation, which focused then on helicopter services.

Company sales and marketing vice president Ammar Balkar told Aviation International News that the company is now booking charter flights not only within the Middle East, but also into Europe, Russia and Asia.

Emerging Markets

A relatively new concept in the Middle East, private aircraft charter should benefit from an expected economic boom and political stability in Gulf states like the United Arab Emirates (including Abu Dhabi and Dubai). Royal Jet projects a 10-percent growth in demand for private charter service over the next five years. The company estimates that 300 business aircraft will operate in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states by the end of the year. The GCC includes the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.

“Private aircraft charter is one of the industries that will benefit the most from this region’s prosperity,” commented Balkar. “The more stability you have the more broad investments are established, which means people have to be more mobile. Aircraft chartering will eventually become a necessity in the region’s travel habits.”

The new Challenger 300 arrived and started operating in mid-August. While it considers the BBJ best suited to heads of state, royalty and business elites traveling on transcontinental long-haul flights, Royal Jet sees the Challenger as “an excellent vehicle for business elites with scheduled regional meetings and short excursions within the GCC and Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent.”

Royal Jet can reconfigure its aircraft to suit the customer’s needs within two and a half hours of confirming availability. For instance, each G300 seats a maximum of 12 passengers, to meet the needs of businessmen, small groups and families.

Last year Royal Jet aircraft logged 3,920 flying hours. This year, through the end of September, it had already flown 3,498 hours. Based on those trends, Balkar sees continued double-digit growth in the Middle East charter market. Flights for international companies needing transportation in the Middle East now account for around one-third of its bookings.

Royal Jet has reaped tremendous flexibility benefits from the BBJ’s 120-minute ETOPS certification issued by the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority last June. The regulations normally allow a charter airline no more than a 60-minute clearance for ETOPS (extended twin-engine operations) on its entry into service. Authorities will grant ETOPS-90 authorization only after one year of trouble-free ETOPS-60 experience. Operators usually can apply for ETOPS-120 clearance only after another year. However, because of Royal Jet’s safety records and operational standards, the company gained the ETOPS-120 rating without having to apply for the ETOPS-90.

“We are very proud of this unique achievement,” said Royal Jet chairman HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan. “With the ETOPS-120 certificate, Royal Jet can offer a more direct and unique service to our clients who will be using the BBJ for isolated and cross-Atlantic destinations.”

With its new clearance, Royal Jet can fly nonstop to Indian Ocean destinations such as the Seychelles and Maldives islands, as well as directly across Central Africa and the South Atlantic. “Added advantages will include planning alternative flight routes with a more direct approach, bypassing countries that can take more time obtaining flight clearances and possibly even reducing flight times to certain destinations,” explained Balkar. The company now aims to obtain a 180-minute ETOPS clearance within the next year.

Royal Jet has equipped its air ambulance division, Royal Med, with advanced medical equipment and a full-time team of doctors and nurses. It lays claim as the only licensed medical evacuation and repatriation operator based in the Middle East. The company is considering buying a new, fully equipped medevac aircraft to better support the business segment, which accounts for around 45 percent of its revenue.

Master plans for an expansion and redevelopment of Abu Dhabi International Airport call for Royal Jet to establish and operate a new purpose-built FBO from a separate VIP terminal.