Dubai Business Aviation Firm Set To Expand Its Empire To India

 - November 10, 2011, 7:25 PM
Steve Hartley, executive director of Dubai-based business aircraft management group Empire Aviation.

Fast-growing Dubai-based business aircraft management group Empire Aviation is about to conclude a major joint-venture agreement, which executive director Steve Hartley said will “double the size of the company.” It remains to be seen whether the deal will be sealed here at the Dubai Air Show this week.

The latest move follows the opening of a new office at Mumbai, India, in June, initially focusing on aircraft sales and management. “Business jet registrations in India have risen strongly in recent years and there is an attractive market opportunity especially for our aircraft management services, and good potential for aircraft sales,” commented co-executive director Paras Dhamecha.

At a briefing in Dubai last month, Hartley declined to reveal the name of the joint venture partner, but it is almost certainly an Indian fixed-base operator or charter company. “India is the location of our next venture,” he told AIN. “Business aviation is growing at a tremendous rate and there is a real shortage of maintenance and repair organizations. They’re experiencing a lot of pressure keeping up with the amount of business.”

The Indian venture will be set up along the lines of the existing Dubai operation, in which Empire Aviation provides sales, management and charter services. The company manages one of the largest fleets of corporate and private jets in the Middle East and, despite the recession, has posted remarkable growth figures since its formation only three years ago. “We began with just six aircraft and we grew by 150 percent in the first year,” said Hartley. “We’re going through a bit of a testing time this year, but we expect to be back at 2008 levels by this time in 2012.”

Empire Aviation has “in excess of 20 aircraft” on its books, including five Embraer Legacy 600 business jets, aircraft that Hartley says have been operated with a “superb” dispatch reliability of 99.9 percent. “Dispatch reliability is paramount in a management company,” he added.

At last month’s National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) show in Las Vegas, Nevada, the company announced a contract for the operation and management of a Legacy 650, becoming the first company in the Middle East to offer the aircraft. The 650 will be operated on behalf of an unnamed Indian owner.

The Legacy range is “particularly suited to Middle East operations,” said Hartley, because of its large cabin, good value and substantial 260-cu-ft baggage capacity, which he says is 100 cu ft more than any comparable aircraft. “We find this is important in this area because customers typically take huge amounts of baggage with them.”

The Legacy fleet has built up more than 7,500 hours flight time with average sector times of three hours. “We use it for corporate and charter [flights] and often in remote regions such as Russia, where reliability is a real issue,” explained Hartley. The new Legacy 650 will be capable of flying direct to Singapore or Europe. “That’s a great proposition for Dubai-based owners,” he added.

The company is the second largest operator of managed Dassault Falcon 7Xs, with two aircraft on its books and a third due for imminent delivery. “We plan to take on more 7Xs,” said Hartley. “There was the grounding issue with the fly-by-wire system, but this is a good aircraft and very popular with our customers. There will definitely be more to come.”

Hartley said Empire Aviation is growing “organically” and the decision to set up a joint venture elsewhere springs naturally from the fact that the United Arab Emirates is limited in size and therefore the scope for expansion. “We have to plug the holes when we see them  and this is a big opportunity to build up our brand image elsewhere,” he said.

Talks with other potential joint venture partners are under way. “We’ve been approached by a number of organizations, but we have to make sure our offerings remain bullet-proof,” said Hartley. “A lot of our customers are also our best friends; we thrive on good relationships.”

One of Empire Aviation’s primary aims is to add value to aircraft it purchases on behalf of owners. “That means we not only protect their value, but maximize value in the most professional and efficient way possible,” said Hartley. The company has no plans to own its own aircraft, nor to operate its own maintenance facility, preferring to outsource to the best suppliers for the service required. “That way, our customers can be sure they’re getting the best value for money, using our considerable experience in this business.”