EBACE Convention News

Flight-support Industry Ups Game To Face Down Array of Tests

 - May 22, 2023, 11:48 AM
Akram Abbas, head of Hadid International Trip Support’s Dubai operations control center. (Photo: Hadid)

Over the past year, flight-support companies have faced a range of problems caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, Sudan’s civil war, China’s post-Covid emergence, and changing attitudes to the sector’s provision of services, which have given rise to challenges but also spurred opportunity.

Akram Abbas, head of Hadid International Trip Support’s (Booth A60) Dubai operations control center, told AIN that flight support services—including fueling, ground handling, flight permits, and flight planning—are essential to the aviation industry. The challenges faced by companies providing such services have included increased competition, fluctuating fuel prices, changing regulations, and a shift in the industry towards sustainable practices. To remain competitive, businesses in the sector need to continue to invest in technology and innovate to improve services, streamline processes, and reduce costs.

“In my view, another challenge facing the aviation industry today is the growing trend among aircraft operators and airlines to bypass flight-support companies and deal directly with service providers,” Abbas said.

“While it's understandable that operators want to reduce operational costs and cut out the middleman," he added, "it's important for them to recognize that they may be missing out on the vast knowledge and expertise that flight-support companies bring to the table and the preferable prices those companies always have with end suppliers, as well as having world coverage. It's important to strike a balance between reducing costs and leveraging the expertise and resources of trusted partners.”

The Russia-Ukraine war has led to restrictions on flights, changes in flight-planning routes, and delays in obtaining permits. Companies operating in the Middle East need to navigate complex political and regulatory environments to continue providing services. Flight support companies, meanwhile, need to be evermore diligent and discerning in conducting compliance and checks.

“Without a dedicated compliance department and regular training for operations staff, flight support companies risk heavy fines or worse,” Abbas said. “Other areas may include challenges in regions like Sudan and Mali, where political crises and coups disrupt aviation activity. Flight-support companies need to be flexible and resilient, staying updated on developments to effectively respond to such situations.”

Apart from Ukraine and Russia, there were several other areas with geopolitical tensions and environmental risks to monitor. “Situations can arise quickly, and it is the job of flight-support companies to adapt and manage these situations on behalf of their clients,” he said. “The Covid-19 pandemic has, for instance, led to a significant decline in air travel, leading to a reduction in demand for flight-support services. Companies in this sector have needed to pivot their operations to meet changing customer trends, and companies have responded by adjusting their business models to remain viable.”

Hadid has also focused more tightly on digitalization and has developed its crew resource management and flight management systems to stay ahead of the competition. “Despite the challenges, we believe that our industry’s future is promising and we are committed to meeting our clients' needs by providing innovative, efficient, and compliant services,” he said.

Richard Walker, business development manager at Moonjet (Booth A54), told AIN that while the Russia-Ukraine war had led to complications arising from route changes, the company’s assignments had also increased.

“The initial impact of the Russia-Ukraine situation was a bit of a double-edged sword, as there was a big jump in workload for the operations team in order to assist clients with updates, cancellations, and suggesting alternative overflight routings where operators looked to avoid affected airspace,” he said.

“In the months since, like much of the market, we have seen a decrease in flight activity in the region, particularly from large-cabin business jets, as the sanctions have continued to have an impact," Walker said. "We hope that the situation will be resolved soon, especially for those directly involved, but for now, we see this as the new normal and we continue to monitor the situation and explore opportunities in other parts of the world.”

Despite the extended restrictions and travel bans across China last year, Moonjet continued to build its network and has expanded agreements with key suppliers and handlers across Asia. “We are now better set up to provide a comprehensive, reliable service to both existing and new clients in the Middle East,” he said. “For us, it is still early days but we are seeing an increase in requests from both local and visiting aircraft to China. We expect this to surge as demand bounces back from the pandemic.”

While Paris Le Bourget Airport has continued to see inexorable growth, with industry estimates now putting annual movements at around 120,000, the threat of environmental protests or government measures against business aviation continues to be a factor for patrons of the FBO facilities there.

“Le Bourget is certainly riding a wave of popularity right now but this may not be sustainable in the long term as slots, parking, and congestion will start to have an impact on the user-friendliness of the airport with traffic starting to spill over other more attractive airports,” Walker said.

“Environmental challenges facing private aviation have been highlighted by the recent political debates in France and the Netherlands," he added, "but it is interesting to note that ultimately neither country has supported an outright ban on business jets, so whilst it may be business as normal for now, the environmental issues are still there.”

Restrictions on domestic flights are a factor in France but it has an excellent rail network so a decision ultimately rests with individual aircraft owners as to how they travel, Walker believes. “Environmental pressures are not going away so it will be interesting to see if the airport can position itself positively and work with the support of the industry to maintain its activity levels,” he said.

Walker said MoonJet is a long-established flight-support company based in the Middle East with coverage in all countries in the region continues “to expand our coverage across Asian and African countries as we build even more compelling products and services that offer value to our customers. In addition to handling and fuel, we have had special agreements in Europe in place for many years for additional services such as catering, transportation, and hotels, which we have now expanded globally.”

Omar Hosari, co-owner, founder, and CEO of Dubai, UAE-based UAS International Trip Support (Booth A29), told AIN the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war had been significant, and the company has had to adjust.

“Flights from the Far East—for example, from Japan and South Korea—into Europe are now operating over the Pacific Ocean, which is a significantly longer distance, which in turn increases fuel requirements,” he said. “As a trip-support company, one of our support functions is flight planning and it is incumbent on us to provide solutions when operators are looking to make their trips.”

In some instances, tech stops are required, which when operating over a large body of water such as the Pacific, present their own challenges. “This is why companies like UAS exist; it is what operations are designed for,” Hosari said. “Due to the demand for air travel—cargo and passenger—the fragility and stability of the industry is always something we’re mindful of and it’s our responsibility to adapt to whatever difficulty is presented.” 

Hosari said flexibility and adroitness were the keys to UAS’ operations. “Within every challenge is an opportunity; it’s just a matter of perspective. It could be civil unrest, a state funeral, or fuel shortages; these are all challenges we are currently dealing with. We must be extremely adept at utilizing any means we can to deliver the service that is requested.”