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Special focus - MEBA show preview: European charter operators give priority to building quality business in the wider Middle East region
Fly Comlux and Ocean Sky are among international charter operators and private aviation support companies building and expanding their operations in the Arab Gulf region as MEBA takes place at Dubai's Airport Expo.

Fly Comlux and Ocean Sky are among international charter operators and private aviation support companies building and expanding their operations in the Arab Gulf region as MEBA takes place at Dubai's Airport Expo.

MEBA 2010 is billed as an ideal platform to initiate business relationships in the Middle East but many also see bases in the UAE and elsewhere in the Gulf as critical to the overall development of services. This includes building business in Africa and facilitating access to the growing markets of Russia, India and China while complementing often well-established European and American operations.

MEBA's organiser F&E Aerospace predicts there will be more than 7,000 show visitors this year and points out that $1.5bn worth of deals were announced at the last MEBA in 2008 when 78 aircraft worth $1.6bn were on the dedicated static park and 250 exhibitors from 30 countries attended.

"We are on target for a growth rate of 40 per cent this year over the last show," Alison Weller, md, says.

Manufacturers showcasing their aircraft and services this year include Boeing, Airbus, Gulfstream, Dassault, Bombardier, Embraer, Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft. Aviation companies represented include Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC), Dubai World Central-Aviation City, Abu Dhabi's Royal Jet, Saudi Arabia's MAZ Aviation, Lebanon's Executive Airport Services (EAS), Jordan's Arab Wings and Jetex Flight Support.

Fly Comlux, the operational vip charter division of the Comlux Group, will also display an ACJ which is part of its 11-strong fleet registered under a Maltese AOC that also spans the Challenger 605, Global Express XRS and Global 5000.

Comlux will be promoting both its dedicated Middle East fleet and what it has achieved in Malta at MEBA. "For more than two years we have been working extremely well with the Maltese civil aviation authorities and the industrial community of Malta. With a growing fleet, we have developed our teams in Malta, taking care of flight and ground operations, maintenance and finance," Giovanni Corrieri, md of Comlux Malta, says.

He adds: "On the Airbus fleet, we have been granted ETOPS 180 min which allows us shorter routings on our transatlantic flights. We also have been approved Cat3a auto land allowing us to land with our vip Airbus aircraft, irrespective of the weather and visibility conditions existing at any destination. This advantage, unique to Comlux, confirms our commitment to always offer the best quality of service to our vip passengers."

Comlux is expanding its Middle East-based services from a hub in Bahrain offering a portfolio of aircraft management and vip charter services in the region.

"Comlux Middle East has a dedicated fleet of vip aircraft available for charter in the region including an A318 Elite with full vip configuration offering a large comfortable lounge, dining room, and a luxurious private area at the back," says Richard Gaona, group president. "The dedicated fleet also offers an ACJ with a private bedroom with its own shower, a spacious lounge and an entourage area at the back with 12 first class seats. Both aircraft can accommodate up to 19 vip passengers offering to each of them ultimate comfort on board and outstanding baggage space in the cargo hold."

Gaona confirms: "Early 2011, a brand new A320 Prestige will join the Comlux Middle East fleet. The aircraft will feature a very stylish and modern cabin arrangement, with the latest connectivity systems such as GSM on board."

He adds: "Bahrain is an excellent location to service the business aviation market in the whole Middle East. Its modern aviation infrastructures will allow us to develop further in the future.

"With our fleet based in Bahrain, we are more reactive on the charter market demand: it will allow our local customers to charter our vip aircraft with no positioning costs, hence creating competitive charter solutions for all the Middle East region. Presently, we are focusing on further expansion of our managed vip fleet in the region and we wish to add at least two more aircraft by the end of next year."

Next phase

Ocean Sky, meanwhile, is signaling the next phase in its growth with the opening of a representative office in Dubai. Steve Grimes, ceo, says: "The new office will serve as a base for Ocean Sky's expansion in the Middle East over the next several years. Initially, the Dubai operation will focus on providing air charter and aircraft management services, but we anticipate expanding into further areas, such as aircraft acquisition and sales and FBO operations."

He adds: "The Middle East is a natural fit for Ocean Sky. There is significant and growing demand for private aviation services and our breadth of activities makes us excellently placed to meet a client's entire needs. We start in Dubai with a strong offering in aircraft charter and management but see exciting opportunities to introduce other elements of our fully-integrated business model."

Ocean Sky's Dubai office will be headed by Neil Backhouse who joins from ExecuJet Middle East where he was charter sales manager for the company's managed aircraft fleet. Backhouse originally moved to Dubai in 2001 with Bombardier Skyjet, tasked with introducing the Skyjet brand to the region.

He says: "I have almost a decade of experience of the Middle East and will use the insights I have gained both as a broker and an operator to spearhead our growth in the region."

Ocean Sky, which is among exhibitors at MEBA, began as an aircraft broker in 2003, expanding into full aircraft service in 2005. "Many Middle East clients know us from using our offices in the UK, the Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Russia to charter aircraft," Backhouse says. The company manages a fleet that ranges from Airbus aircraft to the Cessna Citation Mustang.

F&E Aerospace's Alison Weller says: "The business aviation industry was not immune to the recent global economic downturn and many companies are now willing to encourage purchasing again by offering aircraft at attractive rates."

Many Middle East clients are attracted to the comforts of high-end private aviation as well as the efficiencies and the top end of the market sector will be well represented at MEBA.

High-end attraction

David Crawshaw, ceo of Acropolis which took delivery of its aircraft earlier this year and bases it at Farnborough in the UK (EBAN June 2010), says: "We are delighted with our ACJ."

He is not alone in that assessment. "We are finding that our A318 Elite is increasingly ordered by vips generating more revenue for us which helps our business model a lot, as well as helping us to position ourselves as a top-level service provider," says Mohammed Al Jaber, ceo of AJA which took delivery of its first Airbus aircraft earlier this year. (EBAN September 2010).

DC Aviation ceo Michael Kuhn says: "As a former subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler, we already flew a 48-seater ACJ as a transatlantic corporate shuttle at least four times a week. This year we added a further three vvip Airbus aircraft to our charter fleet. They are already highly in demand and we are happy that they fully meet and exceed our customers' requirements. With more than 30,000 flight hours' experience we are very pleased with the reliability and comfort of our Airbus."

Omni Aviacao president and ceo Jose-Miguel da Costa says: "We can offer an ACJ with vvip seating for 29 people, which is something you cannot do in traditional business jets. We will soon add a vvip 19-seater Airbus aircraft to our fleet. We offer an unmatched range of high-quality options to our clients,"

John Keeble, chairman of Twinjet Aircraft which currently operates an ACJ from Luton in the UK on behalf of the Al Kharafi Group in Kuwait, says: "We were the first in the world to fly an ACJ, as well as the first to offer one for vvip charter, and the first to place a repeat order." Airbus coo customers John Leahy says total sales of ACJs now stand at more than 170 aircraft.

MEBA organisers and exhibitors stress that, although the GCC states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar are important markets, the region is a hub from which to organise and service business in a wider Middle East context in countries ranging from Iraq to Egypt and Libya.

A newly authorised Citation Service Centre is being opened in Egypt by Smart Aviation. It is under construction and should open in the first quarter of 2011. Cessna says: "It will be only the second one in the Middle East, after Wallan in Riyadh."

Middle East hub

The focus of private aviation is not confined to the Gulf but is also on its contribution to the wider Middle East economy. Eurocopter is supplying seven AS350 B3s to the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture for crop spraying missions over vast fields of date palm trees which provide a major source of agricultural revenue for the country. Deliveries of the single-engine workhorse aircraft will begin in the first quarter of 2011, with Eurocopter providing training sessions for Iraqi personnel at its facility in South Africa.

MEBA will highlight the build-up of facilities that is accompanying the GCC's growing importance as a hub serving the wider Middle East region and global private charter movements. Al Bateen executive airport, which promotes itself as the Gulf region's first and only dedicated private aviation airport, reports rising numbers of aircraft movements.

The airport can accommodate up to 70 business jets and its capability was highlighted when it received vips, F1 drivers, officials and race enthusiasts from Europe, South America, USA, Africa and Russia who enjoyed the final Formula 1 Grand Prix of the season.

Operated and managed by Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC) Al Bateen points out that arriving clients can step off the aircraft and directly into the executive terminal to be met by a waiting chauffeur car, just metres away on the other side.

The company says: "From the moment the client touches down he or she can be in the heart of Abu Dhabi in a matter of a few minutes. Alternatively they could make use of Al Bateen's spectacular FBO facilities and hospitality en route to their destination."

Al Bateen is 20 minutes' drive from the Yas Island Marina Formula 1 circuit and just 10 minutes from the Abu Dhabi Corniche, home to some of the best hotels. "We accepted a range of aircraft from all over the world, from light helicopters to Boeing 757s and handled many high profile visitors," says Steve Jones, gm. "The Ethiad Airways Grand Prix proved a terrific opportunity to showcase Al Bateen executive."

Yousef Al Hammadi, Al Bateen's deputy gm, says: "The aim is to encourage clients to use Al Bateen as their travel hub of choice based on the comfort and convenience we offer."

Operators based at Al Bateen include Al Jaber Aviation, Falcon Aviation, Prestige Jet and XO Jet. The UAE is also a growing hub for companies, such as Jetex Flight Support, which are developing wide-ranging global businesses. Jetex is expanding in China, consolidating and developing in the Ukraine and Russia and cementing business in Europe from Paris Le Bourget.

Jetex Flight Support, head-quartered in Dubai, is undertaking a controlled and coordinated expansion programme of services and representatives. The company says: "The Jetex Beijing office is now the point of contact for clients in China and the Far East. The potential for development is exciting as Chinese mainland enterprises are increasingly ordering aircraft and private jets and helicopters are earning growing acceptance as useful business tools."

Some analysts are predicting a rise of up to 20 to 25 per cent each year in the operation of business jets in China in the next decade. Jetex says: "The actual growth remains to be seen but there is a rising demand for flight planning and we believe new legislation will benefit those who invest now in providing quality services to the private aviation sector."

The Jetex drive to be on-hand to support its clients in China comes hard on the heels of the rapid development of its network throughout Ukraine and the success of its 24-7 multi-lingual operation at Kiev airport. Jetex ceo Adel Mardini says: "There is a strong Jetex focus on private aviation developments in Russia and we are also responding to growing client demand in the Ukraine.

Jetex, however, is a global company that is always improving its worldwide network and will never rest on its laurels. China is going to become ever more important to our clients so we will be there for them as well."

Jetex Flight Support, he says, wants to keep adding to more than 260 locations around the world and reports a rise in applications to join its agent network. "The company's excellent name and strong support package for its agents' means we are dealing with a rising number of enquiries from interested parties.

"But however well we are regarded, we never stand still as our philosophy is to always try to improve. So all enquiries that might extend our coverage and client service, are most welcome."

Jetex is one of a number of companies increasing its business profile at MEBA. Air Partner, for instance, has launched what it describes as the most flexible jet card scheme on the market for travel within the Middle East, reflecting a significant improvement in the quality and quantity of private aircraft available for charter in the Middle East over the last 12 months. (See charter broker news page 14).

Air Partner and other charter brokers and charter operators have helped mitigate humanitarian disasters in the Caribbean, Americas and Asia. This year's MEBA is showcasing an industry which contributes not only to economies and jobs but which is also key to helping governments respond quickly to events that threaten lives and well-being.

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