MEBAA Convention News

Where Does the Middle East Buy Jets? London, Of Course

 - December 9, 2014, 10:00 AM
With all the aircraft on display here at MEBA, it still takes a high level of experience to find the right fit.

There is a plentiful selection of private aircraft on display here in Dubai this week, year-round the discerning Middle Eastern private traveler are flocking to another place where they can get expert guidance: The Jet Business store in London’s most exclusive Knightsbridge district.

“We’re now getting a lot of repeat business and a good flow of deals,” founder Steve Varsano. “A lot of people from the Middle East come to London in the summer and many of them come in to see us. We’re seeing a big increase in [client] traffic from the region but I’m not sure if this is true of the market as a whole because there are some quiet pockets and that may be due to political upheaval causing people to stay on the sidelines [of aircraft trading].”

In addition to the falling price of crude oil, another economic driver has been the strengthening of the U.S. dollar. “This could help the market because most people with non-U.S. currency have been able to buy [dollar-priced] airplanes cheaply,” Varsano explained. “Now sellers are able to sell aircraft at a lower dollar price but end up with a higher amount of their local currency. The Russian ruble has fallen a lot and we’ve done quite a few deals in CIS countries where sellers can ask less for and aircraft and still get more money back.”

The Jet Business feels very at home closing transactions across borders. A week before heading to Dubai for the MEBA show, Varsano’s team sold an airplane from Ukraine into Pakistan. “When you are in this business you can’t depend on CNN’s definition of a country,” he said. “We are more tolerant of people’s personalities and the way they do business in different parts of the world.”

In the first three years of The Jet Business’s existence much of the foot-traffic in the exclusive store was accounted for by high-net worth individuals and entrepreneurs. Increasingly, it is now getting visits from aviation department managers and chief pilots. “These are the serious decision makers at corporations and they are more involved in the selection of aircraft,” commented Varsano. “Some people trade their planes as frequently as they change their cars but others are now tending to keep them longer.”

According to Varsano, market conditions are improving for both buyers and sellers on the back of a 30 percent increase in preowned transactions since 2008. “There are now around 20,000 business aircraft in the world and so there are more choices than ever,” he concluded.

Now Varsano wants to replicate The Jet Business in his hometown: New York City. He’s looking for a partner to help him with this project.