For the two brothers who head up Dubai-based UAS International Trip Support, promoting business aviation for its intrinsic benefits has always been important. While other players in the Middle East market have gained a reputation for luxury and high-spending clients, they continue to stress the industry’s value as a time-saver that allows business people to avoid the delays—and hassles—associated with airlines.
“This is a very important point that cannot be overemphasized: the pandemic has helped promote business aviation for all the right reasons—convenience and efficiency—not traditionally factors that attracted typical users,” executive president Mohammed Al Husary told AIN. “Business aviation is considered a luxury; however, due to the pandemic, many new entrants now understand its true value.”
Like many other players around the world, UAS has seen opportunity expand due to airlines’ lack of agility during the pandemic, when they were forced to suspend services for months. Under those circumstances, UAS believes, business aviation gained traction and exposure to the general public, allowing more people to learn about its benefits.
CEO Omar Hosari told AIN that UAS was not opposed to luxury per se and included such components in its marketing and messaging. “But while some of our industry peers tend to focus on this to the exclusion of all else, we do things differently,” he said. “Our focus is always about the right reasons—economy of use.”
This thinking underlines a point made in the past by Ali Alnaqbi, executive chairman of the Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA), that the regional and global industry’s importance lies more in its nature as a cost-effective business driver than as a luxury for the select few. “We have always acted based on our principles,” Al Husary said. “Even if there are players in the market going the other way, we have not been tempted to lose focus on our core values.”
Despite the failures of commercial aviation in the past two years, it has still proved to be a lucrative revenue stream for UAS, often on cargo flights. UAS provides the same service to airlines as to private jets: permits, ground handling, refueling, and hotel accommodation. However, business aviation remains its most important revenue stream today.
“It’s a 70-30 ratio; 70 percent of our revenue is business aviation and 30 percent is airline,” said Hosari. “We're tempted to increase the airline revenue stream because clients like the service. We exist to provide quality to VIPs and elites; as operators, airlines are unused to this kind of service.
“We are seeing an increase in airline demand for trip-support solutions, and, while we are very passionate and have a clear bias toward business aviation, we’re also committed to supporting this niche market.”
The brothers were appreciative of the UAE’s adroit handling of the pandemic and bullish about the outlook in Dubai. While the company does not expect to exceed full-year 2019 operating levels until 2023, performance in the first quarter of this year has already outpaced the same period in 2019.
Charter business is up 35 to 40 percent this year. “In the first quarter, most of these visitors were coming not only for Expo but for destinations in Dubai,” said Hosari. “Business trips to Dubai are around 75 percent of the total, while 25 percent are leisure. Dubai is an attractive location for investments. Business is booming here. We know the market is recovering. The UAE government is very ambitious. It plans to double the size of the economy to close to AED3 trillion [$820 billion] by 2031.”
In China, Al Husary said there was good synergy between the company’s airline and business aviation partners. There was some domestic activity, as well as outbound operations, but inbound was “zero.”
As of December, Chinese steel conglomerate and strategic investor Fangda Group is UAS’s new China partner after taking over HNA's aviation group, UAS's former owner. Fangda is a major steel-to-mining conglomerate, both among China’s biggest industries. “Fangda is now a shareholder of the former group, although the HNA name is still in use by airlines,” Al Husary explained.
“We are now even stronger because Fangda is a more powerful partner than HNA, wants to expand and drive business aviation forward, and invest worldwide through UAS. They will support us vertically and horizontally. We will serve airlines and business jets. Thanks to HNA, there are also private and commercial MRO options.”
While Fangda is a strategic partner and investor in the company, management will remain in UAS’s hands, and the two brothers—as shareholders, founders, and co-owners of the subsidiary—will continue in their executive management roles.
Even though HNA went bankrupt, Al Husary said UAS had not been harmed. “On the contrary, we're confident that the future of UAS has been secured,” he said. “We have a strong, wealthy, and ambitious partner. We have a large office in Beijing; it's operational and doing well. We are expanding commercially in China.”
UAS is looking towards another opportunity to introduce new technology products to the market this week at EBACE. “EBACE is an important event, giving access to the right people, brand exposure, networking, and the chance to introduce new technology,” said Al Husary. “We plan to launch a new trip management system client portal, a product that improves on an existing one, but with new features and brand that appeal to pilots and operations people.”