Despite the headwinds buffeting business aviation in the Middle East, Dubai is heading for “moderate” year-on-year growth in 2018, according to Dubai-based Jetex Flight Support, which is fast making a global name for itself in the FBO business.
“We expect movement growth of around 3-to-5 percent this year for both [Dubai] airports,” said Jetex president and CEO, Adel Mardini, who noted that together the airports recorded total movements of 14,000 last year. Mardini confirmed his company plans to have opened 50 FBOs around the world by 2020.
In September, Mardini said the market was “stable” but “moving towards growth.” At that time, the high season had just started, following the summer holidays and Ramadan, and peak capacity was expected around October 1, with cooling temperatures.
“We are working very hard to achieve [50 FBOs],” said Mardini. “Hopefully at MEBAA  we will announce more presence in the Middle East. We are looking to expand in the Middle East and Africa because we have built a very strong platform here.
“For the time being, we are operating 29 FBOs. We are targeting the addition of 21 FBOs to our portfolio–in the Middle East, Africa, South America and Europe–by the end of 2020.”
Mardini said Expo 2020 would provide opportunities for Dubai’s business aviation community. “We expect around 200 extra flights during the six months of the Expo event, which will start in October 2020. We are in discussion with DWC about separate new facilities for the show. There was a workshop for the operators at Dubai South [which broached this issue]. In Dubai, anything is possible.”
Jetex is also acting as official FBO provider for the MEBAA show. “We expect good numbers of business jets for MEBAA. You can see the number of exhibitors from the [show] floor plan,” he said.
“We started operating [at Dubai South] officially in January 2017, from scratch. We have seen very good numbers. We can see progress in our internal business and in our perception of our customers. That is how we measure our progress. In the past 18 months, we did not lose a single customer. All our customers are still using us. Customers are also recommending us to other people.”
Mardini provided further details of the global scope of Jetex’s business today. “We have today 465 employees worldwide. Compared with last year, we’ve seen more than 20 percent growth. Dubai, Paris and Miami house the majority of our staff. Morocco is going to be very big. India is a very promising market. We are very interested in that market, but we don’t see the opportunity yet. In Africa, the market is improving. We are investing in the Turkish market, and will be there next year,” he said.
As a company with Middle East roots, Jetex is keeping a close eye on developments in the region. Although a slow-down in Saudi business aviation has caused consternation, Mardini said he sees great potential and is already eyeing the kingdom’s future business aviation needs.
“There is no market in the world that has as many heavy jets as Saudi Arabia. Look at how many [Boeing] 777s and BBJs are based there. [Today,] it is not our market. I think the market will come back within two years. From now it is an option. You cannot leave the Saudi market alone. It will come back. It takes time. You have to be ready to act now,” he said.
“The movements number in Saudi will pick up, we believe. Jeddah and Riyadh are vital. Riyadh has 19,000 movements a year; Jeddah 16,000. It is difficult to say for the whole of the kingdom. I know that Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam together account for 35,000-plus movements a year.”
He sees another opportunity in Oman. “We are creating a facility in the new [midfield] terminal [at Muscat International Airport]. We are waiting for final approval, which we hope to get, and we will start construction. We are exclusive there.
“Salalah [on the south coast] doesn’t have many flights, but Muscat saw 2,000 movements last year. There is no AOC holder in Oman: all the movements are international flights coming in.” Meanwhile regarding Bahrain he said, “In Bahrain, we are waiting for the new airport terminal to open. It is [due to open in 2019].”
Jetex served notice of its global intentions in the FBO market when it announced plans to build five facilities in Morocco two years ago, with the resort city of Marrakech as the focus. Even where locations do not provide substantial immediate prospects, Jetex is keen to demonstrate a presence.
“We have finished building the Casablanca and Rabat FBOs, and we will start constructing the Marrakech FBO soon. We have finished the design. Hopefully, Morocco will be one of the biggest markets in Africa. Marrakech saw 4,000 flights last year, while the whole Moroccan market saw 11,000 flights,” he said.
“Some 40 percent of the general aviation business in Morocco is coming to Marrakech. The rest of the Moroccan market is growing slowly. We signed agreements to open five FBOs in Morocco. Agadir and Dakhla each have less than 100 flights a year, but we still intend to open FBOs there.”
Jetex opened its first FBO in France, at Paris Le Bourget Airport, in 2009. “We are so proud to be number one there. For the time being, at Orly, we have a partnership with approval to handle aircraft on the ground. We keep improving our business in France,” he said.
Given the growing trend for ministerial entourages to travel in large numbers, Mardini confirmed that government delegations represent an important part of Jetex’s business. “There are many [such groups], both local and international. Every week, we have one or two big international delegations [in Dubai].”
In referencing the Chinese market, Mardini made an oblique reference to local competitor UAS, the global trip support provider that is revolutionizing China’s FBO sector. In late 2016 UAS was acquired by Deer Jet, a wholly owned subsidiary of China’s HNA Group, which operates and manages around 90 business aviation aircraft.
“China is for the Chinese. We [do] not only [provide] trip support. We are also an FBO operator. Being a foreigner and building something in China is different as an FBO [operator], unless you sell your company to the Chinese, which we did not. If you are not owned by the Chinese, you cannot operate in China,” he said.
Mardini spoke to AIN on the eve of a major air show in Turkey, where he was hoping to progress on sales of the HondaJet, a new string to the business. “We are a dealer for HondaJet now. We are making very good progress. [In the past] two months, we have had many expressions of interest. We will be offering sales and support. Hopefully, we will announce a deal at MEBAA.”
Jetex started in 2005 as a fuel broker and trip-support provider and is now developing a proprietary software system to allow operators and clients to register automatically with the company. Mardini gave further details on the eve of the NBAA show in October, as Jetex seeks to expand its U.S. network. “Our next product is in the pipeline," he said. "We are proud of our achievement. It took us three years of hard work. People are outsourcing the operation to us. Now [a high-net-worth-individual’s] personal assistant is calling us, saying: ‘My boss is flying from A to Z.’ They outsource the operation. The company cuts costs by having no operation. This system took three years to build, all of it in-house.”
He was guarded in his comments about how Jetex finances its global expansion. “We don’t have ‘financial’ partners. We depend on one thing: the best way to protect your position is to move forward. This is why we are dedicated to expansion, to protect and monitor our progress. You have to keep moving.”