Jordanian business-jet management and charter concern Arab Wings, the leading component of Jordan’s International Wings Group, which owns aircraft management companies and a number of flight training schools in the Middle East and North Africa, is looking to a charter upturn to restore fortunes in the Levant as business trends pick up and regional conflicts die down.
“We have always managed aircraft. Aircraft in Jordan are mostly managed. That is a trend that is increasing. People really understand the value we offer; aviation companies can be very costly and do not make financial sense if you own only one aircraft,” Ahmad Abu Ghazaleh, CEO, Arab Wings, which is based at Marka International Airport in Amman, Jordan, told AIN.
“Jordan is a much more mature market than other countries in the region, as evidenced by the fact that Arab Wings was set up in 1975. Our group, International Wings Group, acquired Arab Wings in 2005.”
He was coy about changes to the Arab Wings managed fleet in the past 24 months. “I would not wish to comment further than saying we have taken a BBJ and are now in the process of adding a Piaggio and a Legacy 600, both for charter. Most of the aircraft in our fleet are on charter, but not all of them,” he said.
“I am more optimistic now than I was two years ago. We are nowhere near the highs seen in the past. We are experiencing a downturn at the moment, but there is not much further downside from where we are now.”
Abu Ghazaleh said that aircraft based in Qatar are unable to operate to their full capacity in the region. “Qatari aircraft can’t fly over Saudi or Emirati airspace. In effect, they can’t fly over the Gulf.”
Filling the Ranks
IWG has continued its success with pilot training in the Middle East and recently opened its first facility in North Africa. “We opened a flight school in Morocco, which is now operational. The Morocco Aviation Private Academy [MAPA], located at Benslimane Airport, between Casablanca and Rabat, caters to airframe maintenance technicians [AMT] and pilots, under the EASA framework,” he said.
“At the moment, we are training 60 pilots and 30 technicians there. This is our first year of operation in Morocco. We launched our first class of registered students this September. Our teaching in Morocco and Jordan is a mix.”
In Jordan, IWG is training pilots and technicians. “In Iraq, the school has not yet opened. It takes time. When it does, this school will be very important, as Iraqis make a major contribution to the aviation industry. We have trained many Iraqis in Jordan. In the past five years, we had a technical training program for the Iraqi Air Force on the F-15, but that has now been discontinued,” he said.
“As aviation continues to grow, you need pilots and technicians to sustain the industry. We see a trend going forward: the EASA training framework is being increasingly adopted in the region. For now, all we do is ab initio simulator training. Once trainees have finished our programs, they then have to go and do type training. In the region, there are a number of specialized flight training schools, after which graduates continue their education with airlines.”
Earlier this year, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Aviation Training announced plans to open its pilot training schools to international students. “Ab initio training at Etihad is likely to prove very costly, so it is difficult to say how many young trainees they will attract from outside the region. In addition, it is challenging to fly a single-engine aircraft in the very hot conditions prevalent in the Gulf region,” he said.
He said the market was stable in the run-up to MEBAA. “We all await a new upturn. We are hoping for the business trend to pick up. Of course, there has been a spillover effect on the wider economy caused by oil prices. A healthy economic environment and an absence of conflict would be very helpful. We hope stability, prosperity, and a pool of talent to make the region more prosperous will all eventually emerge.”
He said the situation in Syria was calming down, while Iraq finally had a government. He expects business and general aviation conditions to improve. “Jordan has weathered the storm. I am not worried about Jordan; it is the most resilient country in the region,” he said.
“The more hours we get, the better. A more prosperous region will promote more charter hours and more business. While we have AOCs in Jordan, the UAE, and Iraq, there is always a lot of business into and out of Jordan. Jordan sees many business people traveling through Amman, so the business aviation market is more reliant on business travel than leisure tourism.”