The Middle East Business and North Africa Aviation Association (MEBAA) continues to drive business aviation advocacy in the region, particularly in North Africa, as an improvement in the operating climate in the next 12 months is expected, provided the global economy stays relatively firm.
“Last year was a very good year, despite [problems facing the region] from other parts of the world, the Yemen situation, and other issues,” MEBAA founding and executive chairman Ali Alnaqbi told AIN. “The region registered 7 percent growth [in business aviation movements] in 2018. This is a healthy indication of the state of the market, and the focus on the business side rather than leisure. Saudi Arabia has had a big effect on growth; it is opening up as well. We are expecting better [regional] growth of 9 to 10 percent this year.”
The VIP Terminal at Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC, Dubai South) has been in operation for more than two years, and Dubai is understood to be witnessing around 14,000 movements a year at both DWC and Dubai International (DXB). “As far as Dubai South is concerned, Jetex Flight Support is doing a good job,” he said. “Jet Aviation and Falcon Aviation are also operating FBOs there. There were some effects because of the Saudi market. It is picking up. You will see in good movement in Dubai in the second quarter.”
Alnaqbi conceded that the MEBAA Show held in Dubai in December was not as well attended as hoped, but is looking to a combination of dynamics to give the region a shot in the arm. “MEBAA, [NBAA BACE], and EBACE all saw a drop in activity last year; there were many factors involved, but this year, we are hoping to see things pick up,” he said. “Saudi Arabia is [improving] again. It is one of the biggest markets in MENA. As we all know, it has had some issues in the past two years. Many aircraft are going back to normal. Saudi Arabi is a very promising market now, given the number of movements.”
He also commended the efforts of PrivatAir Saudi Arabia (PASA), which is overseeing major improvements at private aviation terminals under its management in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam. In an apparent reference to the demise of PrivatAir Switzerland, he said: “PASA is back on its feet. There will be huge opportunities [in the FBO market] coming up.”
A Middle East market forecast from JetNet iQ indicates that the region will see moderate fleet growth, with deliveries of new business jet expected to pick up from 12 last year, to 14 this year, 15 in 2020 and 16 in 2021. JetNet’s definition of the Middle East includes Iran and Turkey but excludes North Africa. “There is a good number of aircraft to be delivered into the MENA region, which is encouraging,” Alnaqbi said about the JetNet iQ figures.
In a nod to his earlier career with the Presidential Flight in Abu Dhabi, Alnaqbi said the capital’s main business aviation facility is expanding. “Business continues to grow; new companies are operating in Al Bateen Executive Airport, in Abu Dhabi. More activity is expected at Al Bateen,” he said.
While Alnaqbi praised a number of Middle East companies for the progress they were making in the U.S. market, he is also keen to encourage the European encounter, as MEBAA is understood to have 54 members from this region. “Middle East companies are in Europe. Adel Mardini, [president and CEO of Jetex Flight Support is leading] a very interesting expansion into Europe. Europe also has a lot of good companies, which are coming this way [into the Middle East].”
Jetex’s global network includes involvement in the management of 20 FBO facilities in three European countries. It also claims 20 percent market share at Paris Le Bourget.
Gulf Cooperation Council member Oman is poised to augment its business aviation offering. “We are working with the government of Oman to develop business aviation in the capital, Muscat,” Alnaqbi said. “A consultant has been appointed, and there is an opportunity to create a [private aviation] terminal at Muscat International Airport. The [former international terminal] is to be dedicated to business aviation. MEBAA is working with the government, as well as consultants, to develop that.”
North Africa's Potential
Meanwhile, Alnaqbi is organizing the third-ever MEBAA Show Morocco in September and held a press conference in Morocco in February alongside Zuhair El Aoufir, CEO of the Moroccan Airports Authority (ONDA). “The business aviation sector in Morocco shows promising potential,” he said. “[Some] 70 percent of private jet usage is for business purposes, while the remaining 30 percent is for pleasure. With figures such as these, it’s hardly surprising that the industry has such positive implications [for the kingdom].”
North Africa is the scene of a widening in the scope of MEBAA’s operations. Alnaqbi said difficulties still remained in the path of organizing an event in Algeria, but the Tunisian government was keen to stage a conference or roadshow to promote regional business aviation after MEBAA held a conference in the capital, Tunis, late last year. There, the MEBAA founder was joined by Yamina Jlaiel, deputy director Air Transport Direction, General Directorate of Civil Aviation, and local business aviation industry representatives.
“The MENA business aviation industry is growing [in North Africa],” he said at the time. “The purpose of MEBAA Conferences and networking events is to provide more focus on individual countries both in detail and in the context of the region, by bringing together key leaders to share knowledge.”
While MEBAA is exhibiting this week at EBACE (Booth T33), Alnaqbi is himself not attending since it coincides with the Holy Month of Ramadan this year, but he did attend ABACE last month in Shanghai to promote the Morocco show. Also for religious reasons, a number of other Middle East-based companies might not be at EBACE this week, he added.