It always takes a few days after a show ends before all the pertinent numbers and statistics finally come together—how many visitors, how many orders, how much money changing hands. But the real worth of a show is not always measured in those values. It is more important to assess the quality of the interactions that take place over three days, and this can also be much more difficult to pin down.
As the numbers go, we know now that there were 452 exhibitors at MEBAA 2018 and 34 aircraft on static display. Of those 34, more than a half dozen are making their first appearance at the show, such as the single-engine Cirrus Vision jet, likely the smallest jet to ever grace the UAE skies. According to MEBAA founding and executive chairman Ali Alnaqbi, the show has experienced double-digit growth every year—with 2018 showing a 15 percent improvement over the last edition in 2016.
One new feature this year is the product demonstration theater on the show floor, presenting interactive product demonstrations from exhibiting companies. Also, the MEBAA Conference Dubai was held in a curtained area right on the show floor. It featured the expertise of industry leaders discussing topics of current interest, such as the impact of blockchain on business aviation operations and maintenance, as well as updates on various aircraft programs and other topical subjects.
The Jetsetter Reception further supported MEBAA’s mission of creating “an ideal platform for the business aviation industry in the Middle East and North Africa.”
“It’s important to bring trust to the show,” Alnaqbi told AIN. “I want happy members. I want to be able to deliver commitment and promise and pave the road for the next segments of business aviation.”
Those future segments could mean urban mobility drone operations all the way through supersonic aircraft. Alnaqbi sees good prospects for Aerion’s AS2 Mach 1.4 supersonic business jet, now in development in the U.S. Describing operators in the Middle East, he said, “We fly long distances—to Europe, the U.S., Asia—so supersonic travel adds great value. To get there faster means you don’t have to be away from home for as long. Even though it served limited markets, we miss the Concorde.”
At the other end of the scale, Alnaqbi has a passionate interest in promoting smaller aircraft in the region. He has distinct ideas on the needs for an air-taxi operation, for example. “We have a huge market that is lost due to the unavailability of aircraft. I have said repeatedly and publicly, you need to have at least 11 to 15 aircraft. Air-taxi needs critical mass. Providing a business aircraft solution is not about widebody aircraft alone. The smaller aircraft segment is still missing.”
Discussing the recent closing of PC-12 operator GI Aviation, he said, “Also, pricing must be correct. A PC-12 for more than $3,000 [per hour]? Come on! But if you want to launch an air-taxi with the right number of aircraft and the right price, MEBAA will support you.”
Alnaqbi is pleased with the interaction he has experienced with regulatory authorities throughout the region. “I want to thank the authorities for working with us. The UAE was one of the first countries to use IS-BAO [International Standards-Business Aircraft Operations], and the authorities have been working closely with us.”
He said the cooperation with the authorities has helped meet the needs of MEBAA members. “We’re not here to break rules,” he said. “But we want to be treated like business aviation operators in the U.S. and Europe. And we want them to be treated here the way they are treated in their home countries.”
Alnaqbi, who serves as vice chairman for the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), sees a MEBAA agenda that includes illegal “gray” charter. “The gray market is the enemy of growth,” he said. He also envisions as pivotal for the future aspects such as the growing pilot shortage, supersonic aircraft, and expanding technology.
Alnaqbi sees many ways that the industry and authorities can help MEBAA and the show to be even more successful. “The OEMs can help us. And we need expansion of infrastructure and airports. We also need investment in local business aviation operators and businesses. I am a big believer in the Middle East and Africa. We are enjoying healthy growth, good growth. We see positive reaction to our business and industry. The future is very bright.
“Shows [like MEBAA] will lighten the future and show how growth can bring strength. I want the market to have big confidence in MEBAA—what we can deliver.”
Alnaqbi concluded with a passionate appeal to bringing young people into the industry. “You and I, we love the smell of jet fuel. But we need to transfer that passion to the next generation; make it appealing to them; show the opportunity. We can’t wait for them to come to us. We need to bring it to them.
“I want to do this at the MEBAA level, and we need to bring it to the IBAC level. The airlines are climbing. We need for business aviation to climb even higher.”