Abu Dhabi charter operator Royal Jet continues to tighten its belt as it remains optimistic about the Middle East market, particularly in Saudi Arabia, as well as Africa.
Today, it operates eight BBJs, the last of which joined the fleet during Dubai’s Middle East Business Aviation (MEBAA) Show in December 2016. “Royal Jet took two additional BBJs, to bring the total to eight, in 2016, and also operates two Global 5000s, which have been in the fleet for four years,” president and CEO Rob DiCastri told AIN in February. “We are finally selling our Gulfstream G300.”
Royal Jet is owned by Abu Dhabi Aviation and the Presidential Flight Authority. Business in the company's home city of Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, is driven by a number of factors, including royals and government delegations. He reported, "Historically we were very reliant on [the royal family and] Presidential Flight." However, he acknowledged, “We’re trying not to be too reliant on any one customer group. Third parties, such as other governments [and] ministries, [are also important]. It’s a wide combination: some corporate [trips] in the smaller aircraft."
High-profile Large Aircraft
DiCastri, who joined Royal Jet from Saudi Arabia in late 2016, said that a government-instigated anti-corruption drive in the kingdom had slowed business. “There’s lots of activity going on internally, I think,” he said. “Is there a lot of international flying, VIP, like there used to be? Will that come back? It depends on how the whole clean-up finishes and [whether] people start being a little [bolder] or being able to go out and be seen in private jets.
“Right now I think it’s the government that is moving ahead with lots of different activities, and they are high profile. They are the ones doing the big events, [bringing in] the big entertainers…and sporting activities...That’s something that we haven’t seen before.
“They held a big golf tournament in King Abdullah Economic City; it was on the European tour. I’ve heard that Mariah Carey was in there, [as was Greek composer] Yanni... They are focusing on domestic entertainment and sports, on people locally. It’s very interesting because it’s different than before.”
DiCastri said Africa offers opportunity. “There’s a lot of business, potentially, in the BBJ-size aircraft... We’re doing more of that lately. [It’s] government and ultra-high-net-worth individuals. It’s all VVIP.
“I don’t think in Nigeria we’ve done anything. But in other countries, and I probably won’t name them, there’s a bit of a vacuum, a gap in Africa in terms of the larger aircraft. Our niche is the BBJ. We’re not going to…put a Global 5000 in there or a Gulfstream, because there are plenty of those. But there’s not a lot in the entourage-type aircraft that have more seats and space…
“When you’re going into the BBJ, that’s one of the markets you’re [looking to]: the film companies and their tours, the rock bands and the big concert tours...or sports delegations.”
He said the Abu Dhabi 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games is another target. “There’re thousands of delegates, delegations from hundreds of countries coming in,” he said. “They have got to get in here somehow. Etihad can handle a lot of it, of course. But there’s going to be a demand for those types of things when there are big events like that happening.”
DiCastri said fleet renewal will be important regionally. “That’s why they say there’s ‘x’ number of aircraft to be delivered to the region in the next 10 years. There are aging aircraft everywhere. We have an aging fleet. We have a couple of new aircraft, but a number of our BBJs are older. We need to do a couple of [refurbishments]. We need to do some more to upgrade them.
“It all depends on the customer demand. If the customers are happy with what they’re getting, if the pricing is right, if the service is as good as it has ever been, they are still coming.”