Gama Aviation’s Sharjah, UAE-based FBO saw a record-breaking year last year and expects to make major announcements on the expansion of its more than 40-aircraft fleet in the coming months.
“[The year] 2021 went from strength to strength. It was a record-breaking year, and Sharjah FBO movements were up about 30 percent on pre-pandemic volumes,” Tom Murphy, head of FBOs and aircraft management specialist at Gama Aviation Sharjah, told AIN. “We managed to retain a number of new clients that now happily use our location as the closest alternative to DXB for downtown Dubai.”
The fleet, in which all aircraft are managed, ranges from light jets to ACJs and BBJs. “In the last year, we have added a Pilatus PC-24, Dassault Falcon 7X, and Gulfstream G650 and G280,” he said.
The majority of the aircraft are based in the UK, although Gama also manages others based in Europe and the Middle East, as well as two “transient” Globals—a Global Express and a Global 5000—available on charter. “In the Middle East, we have an Embraer Legacy and ACJ based in Sharjah, and the local operations team manages a total of eight aircraft,” Murphy said.
Aircraft owners are a mix, but in scenarios where the owners actually fly and use their aircraft, the majority will not want to charter them. “Typically, in this part of the world, our fleet, and most other people’s fleets, consist of Globals or Gulfstreams,” he said.
Wheels Up’s acquisition of Gama Aviation Signature’s U.S. fleet in March 2020 led to a significant reduction in the number of aircraft in Gama’s global fleet, but Farnborough, UK-based Gama is intent on expanding it again.
Murphy said the biggest challenge in Sharjah is the perception of the location, although this was not such a challenge when dealing with UAE residents. Once new customers trial its facilities and service, he is always confident that they will return; it is a question of getting them through the door the first time.
“Our overriding principle for the FBO is efficiency; we focus on providing travelers with the quickest and safest transfer to and from their aircraft—all of our staff are directly employed and sit approximately 30 training courses each year, all of which are tailored around the efficiency and safety principles, and in line with our IS-BAH Stage 2—soon to be Stage 3—accreditation,” he said.
Gama even has regular clients in Sharjah who reside on Palm Island. “In their decision-making, they consider their total journey times—a six-minute taxi from the runway to parking stand, zero slot restrictions. This, along with efficient handling and being able to have their own vehicle waiting on stand for them, makes the Sharjah FBO a fantastic option,” he said.
The FBO is complimented by line maintenance. Gama holds several approvals which include the Global series, Legacy 600/650, G650, and Bombardier Challenger 604/605. “This offers further peace of mind to crew and passengers alike, knowing that their aircraft are in safe and responsible hands,” he stated. “We have a number of clients who also take us up on hangarage. We have shaded and fully air-conditioned spaces, which are incredibly popular throughout the year and often sold to capacity.”
In addition to the Sharjah FBO, Gama also offers facilities in Glasgow and Jersey. “From mid-2021, the team and I have been working hard in Glasgow to develop our FBO offering,” he said.
“We have had the facility for a long time as a byproduct of operating the Scottish Air Ambulance Service. As of September, we increased our capability, which now enables us to provide full handling to business aviation customers. As well as line maintenance, we have a facility that includes a VIP lounge, which is a matter of steps from our own dedicated apron and hangars. A particular highlight was the United Nations Climate Change Conference—COP26—last October.”
The sole FBO in Jersey has been operated by Gama for more than six years. “It’s a facility that lends itself perfectly to travelers to and from the island. We have more than 7,000 movements a year, so it is a very busy and important location for us.”
Gama employs 10 FBO staff members in Glasgow, around 15 in Jersey, and 21 in Sharjah.
Murphy said the company had seen bright starts to the year across all of its FBOs, each of them performing above forecasts and enjoying increased movements in 2021. “However, we all know that in this new environment we find ourselves in, we are only one or two restrictions away from our activity being reduced dramatically,” he said. “That’s why it’s important we make the best impression on the customers we are handling at present and stay adaptable for whatever challenges might await.”