MEBAA Convention News

Lawyer Calls for Better Regulation in Middle East

 - December 13, 2012, 5:15 AM
Pictured (l-r) are Rolf Smith, Viation sales director; Pat McHaffey, managing director of Viation UK; Greg Thomas, PrivatAir CEO; Christian Hatje, PrivatAir v-p business aviation; and Nick McHaffey, director of Viation UAE.

The Gulf region is in need of a sound regional business aviation policy and is suffering from lack of a dedicated regulatory environment, said London-based lawyer Aoife O’Sullivan during a break yesterday from overseeing several business aircraft transaction on the fringes of MEBA 2012 in Dubai.

O’ Sullivan, a senior partner with the international aviation specialist law firm Gates and Partners, said that MEBA was a “good place to connect,” but that weak regulatory oversight by regional governments risked a loss of the benefits provided by business aviation. “It’s up to the industry to get [the regulators] up to speed by playing a supporting role,” she said.

Her words came as the Middle East Business Aviation Association announced, as the MEBA show in Dubai drew to a close, that it would bring together 23 authorities in the Middle East to draft a “much needed” business aviation policy, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE targeted in the first development phase.

On this front, MEBAA founding chairman Ali Al Naqbi said, “We have reached a joint initiative agreement with the U.S.-headquartered General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) to assist us with this program…the MENA region is on the threshold of rapid expansion in business aviation yet the growth potential is being held back by a lack of a dedicated regulatory environment for the sector.”

O’Sullivan said that MEBA was becoming an important event on the international business aviation circuit and that attendance was now mandatory. “[The presence of] upper management and [the potential for] orders are the main reason to come to this show,” she said. “You see everybody in one place. It’s very effective. We’ve seen a marked increase and improvement in the quality of people coming.”

O’Sullivan has long been one of the most strident voices calling for the tightening of oversight of the sector in the region and elsewhere. There is a need to create a “gold standard,” a policy that would leave the region’s bizav players in no doubt about where the ground rules lay, she told AIN.

On Monday, O’Sullivan told attendees at the MEBAA Conference: “One of the big problems we face is that we don’t have a [concise] definition of what is illegal [in the region].”

At the moment, she thinks the region’s regulators, who have a tendency to put commercial aviation ahead of business aviation, prioritize aircraft operating under valid AOCs when greater risks might lurk with the private jet operators who dodge rules that are poorly drafted, often misunderstood and rarely enforced–allowing a proliferation of “gray” charters.

“Why aren’t regulators regulating all aircraft, whether they are private or charter?” she asked. “Why are they only concerned with AOC holders? Surely they should be more worried about private [aircraft]?”

She encouraged regional regulators to “prosecute all levels” of infraction. “Are you going to go after the guy with the wads of cash, or the AOC holder?” she asked. “[The definition] of illegal charter, and its consequences, are not being tackled by anyone [here].”

O’Sullivan conceded that Gulf regulators face an increasingly difficult task of supervision, given the explosive growth of commercial aviation, meaning fewer resources to devote to business aviation.

PrivatAir Signs Up Viation as Exclusive Worldwide Broker

In speaking with AIN at MEBA, O’Sullivan was in the middle of helping Viation and PrivatAir sign a deal which will see Geneva, Switzerland-based PrivatAir become the worldwide exclusive aircraft brokerage agency for business aviation transactions for Cayman Islands-based Viation, which also has an office in Dubai, as well as London, Farnborough and Los Angeles.

The deal was signed by Viation managing director Patrick McHaffey and Privatair chairman & CEO Greg Thomas, on board the first aircraft to be offered for sale under the new partnership–a Bombardier Global 5000 that spent the week in the static park at MEBA (registration VP-BSK). The companies’ joint press release said that “aviation law firm Gates and Partners formalized the contract today.”