ExecuJet stakes its claim to burgeoning Gulf market

 - November 10, 2008, 5:40 AM

Managing the phenomenal growth of business aviation is the greatest challenge facing ExecuJet Middle East managing director Mike Berry. The group has had a strong presence in this part of the world for more than a decade, partly through its role as a major distributor for Bombardier’s business aircraft and also as a provider of aircraft management, charter and maintenance services.

“We have had a tremendous year,” Berry told MEBA Convention News. “Aircraft sales have beaten expectations hands down for both pre-owned and new models and maintenance activity has been well ahead of our targets.”

The arrival of more new Bombardier aircraft to Middle Eastern customers has doubled the size of ExecuJet’s managed fleet over the past year. The company now offers seven aircraft for charter–three Learjet 60XRs, a pair of Challenger 300s, a Challenger 604 and a Challenger 605–and it is close to adding another 604, a fourth 60XR and a Global 5000. At the end of September, its fleet consisted of 16 fully managed aircraft and 10 partially managed jets.

More aircraft means more pilots to hire and more support infrastructure and that can create real headaches. “To be honest, we are having to get very selective with [aircraft management] opportunities because we don’t want service levels to drop,” said Berry.

ExecuJet (Stand No. 541) has been able to find the air crew it needs by resorting to a 30-day rostering system by which the pilots work for a month in the region where they are needed before returning home for a month. The company has found this to be a more sustainable and flexible human resources strategy rather than insisting that all crew are locally based on a permanent basis. Among its workforce of about 200 people, there are around 75 pilots and 70 maintenance technicians.

“MEBA will be a good indicator of what is really happening in the region,” he added. Despite the sustained growth over the past two or three years, Berry does detect some signs of wider economic slowdown in global markets, but every cloud here in the Arabian Gulf appears to have a silver lining. “A slow-down in aircraft acquisitions could actually present new opportunities in charter,” he said.

ExecuJet has also seen much more visiting traffic on the ramp of its still new, purpose-built FBO here at Dubai International Airport. The recent ground-handling average has been about 80 aircraft per month, but the operation is just coming out of its quiet season and further growth is anticipated in the coming months. The airport is fast approaching its operational limits, which has made it hard to find sufficient ramp space to park all aircraft close to the FBO.

This has prompted ExecuJet to commit to developing another facility at the new Al Maktoum International Airport currently being built in Jebel Ali, 25 miles from the city center. The company is now deciding on when it wants to open this FBO, with business aviation operations not expected to be fully up and running there until 2010.

Meanwhile, new opportunities are also presenting themselves in other parts of the Middle East, such as Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. “We are monitoring possibilities to establish other bases throughout the region but we already operate regularly in places such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt,” explained Berry.