The Middle East and North Africa Business Aviation Association (MEBAA) is predicting a flat year for business aviation movements in Dubai, after its two main airports, Dubai International (DXB) and Al Maktoum International (DWC), which both boast major business and general aviation operations, saw more than 13,000 movements in 2016.
“I don’t think the number for movements should fall [this year],” Ali Alnaqbi, founding and executive chairman of MEBAA, told AIN.
“Movements in our part of the world are sometimes affected by crises. We have government movements in addition to business and private aviation. Government movements take place when there is a crisis somewhere. [In such cases], a good deal of movements are seen and the industry becomes very busy. I don’t think the figure is going to drop this year.”
The value of preowned aircraft in the region has stabilized, Alnaqbi said. “There was a big drop in secondhand values in recent years, but this has corrected itself. Now, pricing is reasonable. The new [Bombardier] Challenger model is coming soon, and the Global 7000 is an amazing aircraft. There will be some new aircraft coming into this market. According to the latest statistics from GAMA [the General Aviation Manufacturers Association], the OEMs will see increased deliveries [in this region] in the coming five years,” he said.
“There is movement in new aircraft in our part of the world, despite the situation. It’s a challenge, no doubt. [Select] aircraft are being ordered by governments, as well as private operators.”
Alnaqbi expressed consternation about operators in the region selling tickets to individual travelers on large-cabin aircraft, rendering traditional charter models redundant. The sheen of privilege attached to business aviation is creating new problems—as well as new solutions.
“Business aviation as a taxi [service] is very lucrative," he said. "These operators are challenging our industry, basically pushing the authorities to say that there is no difference between business aviation and the airlines. Why should we call ourselves ‘business aviation,’ [when we are becoming] an ‘airline.’ The concept needs to be revised to meet new demand."
However, the Middle East’s business aviation culture gives Alnaqbi cause for confidence. “I am very optimistic for the future. We need to be patient with our business. There is huge potential for business aviation growth [in the region]. You will hear pessimists say ‘The market is [in the doldrums], we are down.’ They are giving priority to the wrong parts of the business.”
MEBAA, as part of its regional outreach program, is planning to organize events in Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the next 12 to 18 months, in addition to the MEBAA Conference and Expo taking place at DWC on Dec. 10-12, 2018.
Alnaqbi said that he had been approached on the sidelines of MEBAA’s Jeddah conference in October by officials from Saudi Aramco, the national oil company, to assist with an aviation training facility at King Abdullah Economic City, a new national project on Saudi Arabia’s west coast 70 miles north of Jeddah.
As part of an initiative to spur local jobs, Saudi Aramco is developing its In-Kingdom Total Value Add (IKTVA) localization program, with a view to spurring job opportunities for Saudi nationals.
“The National Aviation Academy will facilitate the sustainable growth of the Kingdom’s aviation sector through highly trained and qualified Saudi professionals, while enabling a vibrant Saudi aviation industry. The soft launch will accommodate 400 students and the full launch will target 1,400 students,” Saudi Aramco said earlier this year.
Admission examinations took place in September for the first time in the kingdom’s history to train female air traffic controllers. Reports said the first intake included 80 women.
Aviation accounts for only 2 percent of GDP in the Kingdom, but it is waking up to the success of the UAE, which sees aviation contribute 23 percent to its economy, according to Alnaqbi's estimates. “Aramco is building an entire aviation city and training center, to include commercial and business aviation. It is asking MEBAA for help in developing a training center,” he said.