Farnborough, UK-based Gama Aviation (Chalet S8) has long had a presence in the Middle East, focused on its growing presence at Sharjah Airport. Currently, the main focus is Gama's new Bournemouth facility, entailing a move of all but its headquarters from Farnborough and bringing various other elements together as well.
The move was announced in May at the EBACE show in Geneva, and this was later followed by Gulfstream confirming it would establish a new large service center at Farnborough, using land freed up by Gama.
According to Gama, the vast hangar at Bournemouth “is ours now for 25 years” as it signed a long-term lease. The facility was originally designed for the UK’s Nimrod MRA2 maritime patrol contract, which was ultimately cancelled. Recently it was home to a Boeing 747-8 that belongs to a private owner from the Middle East, and with this plus a Challenger 604, a Premier 1, three King Airs, and another Challenger, “there was still space,” said Gama chief marketing office Duncan Daines. He admitted, however, that the hangar would be unable to house an Airbus A380 due to door constraints.
The company moved quickly after EBACE to establish itself at Bournemouth, taking over the facility in August and adding maintenance approvals so its existing activities at TAG Farnborough and London Oxford airports could be transferred. Gama's Farnborough site closed on September 30 and things were going so well it accelerated the closure of the Oxford maintenance base. The company still holds some hangar space there but says that will soon be relinquished, as the company doesn’t need it any more because there is so much space at Bournemouth.
“The change is huge,” said Daines, “and we now have a single team for Part M and Part 145 [activities] in one location, which makes a massive difference in terms of productivity. And it really helps in terms of staff retention.” Although many have had to relocate to the south coast, Bournemouth is a sought-after seaside area with much to offer. It also has “the ecosystem of other MRO businesses there,” he added.
Daines confirmed that the Gama Aviation headquarters would remain at TAG Farnborough Airport, effectively the side of the business it calls “Air,” covering aircraft management and charter. Bournemouth now serves as the centre of its “Ground” business.
At Sharjah Daines said the company had probably been “a little ambitious in terms of timeline” for getting its new Business Aviation Centre finished, and he admitted that “realistically it will now be 2020” before it opens. Gama opened its existing FBO and maintenance facility at Sharjah in 2012 but is keen to move to the new facility. “Space is being cleared to get the apron [laid] down,” he said.
In terms of the regional situation, Daines said there are several “temporary” factors that are suppressing growth, but Gama Aviation expects long-term prospects to be very good. And while the company “won’t be at MEBAA saying ‘look at us,’ we are quietly confident that we have a good product and game plan.”
In terms of its hoped-for Saudi FBO, this is clearly on the back burner at present. “We are standing off at the moment though there’s lots of opportunities and flight hours going over there," he said. "It’s all about timing, but it’s not all doom and gloom.”
Daines noted the company’s expected 2018 financial performance caused the markets to react negatively in October, given that it is a listed company, but Gama Aviation does tend to perform better in the second half of years. “The basic fundamentals of the business are really strong,” he said, pointing to two major contracts that are almost finalized. These are “amazing contracts” that he couldn’t divulge, but the work is “ideally suited to Bournemouth,” he added.
In terms of the overall business, Gama manages and operates 230 aircraft. The U.S. locations “continue to expand,” he said, as Wheels Up, for which Gama operates a fleet of King Airs and Citations, keeps growing strongly.
Finally, Daines said that Gama is doing well in China. “It’s our smallest operating region but there’s plenty of potential,” he said.