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Abu Dhabi Aviation’s domestic activity continues as international market slumps
Last month Abu Dhabi Aviation qualified for IS-BAO Stage III, having been Stage I since 2016 and Stage II since 2018. It has also taken delivery of AW139s and AW169s and won new contracts, despite COVID concerns.
Abu Dhabi Aviation prides itself on its oil and gas record.
Read this story in our December 2020 printed issue.

The ADA Group, which owns Abu Dhabi Aviation, Royal Jet, Maximus Cargo and consultancy ADA Millennium, is reporting a challenging but strong year for Abu Dhabi Aviation. The company is one of the largest helicopter operators and maintainers in the MENA region, and before the onset of COVID-19 it won a large oil and gas contract involving 15 aircraft, along with a large maintenance contract in Kuwait. “When COVID hit us, it quickly started to affect our international markets,” reveals commercial director Mark Pierotti. “But our domestic market wasn’t really affected. In fact, we continued to fly domestically as much as we always have, and the fact that we won this new contract meant that the future looked secure. Our ad hoc charter also picked up, so that compensated in part for the pandemic effect. Internationally, in Africa and in India, our customers started to have challenges on their hands, so we had to bring back a few aircraft and we are now looking for new opportunities to place them elsewhere.”

Recently, the company took delivery of two new AW139s and then last month added two new AW169s, swelling the fleet to over 60 aircraft. “The 139s were additions to our existing fleet, but the 169s are a brand new type for us, so that was a great achievement, managing to put a new type of aircraft on our AOC and AMO,” Pierotti continues. “We took delivery of the AW169s two weeks ago, so they are now here and operating in Abu Dhabi. They are slightly smaller than the 139, and are configured for offshore oil and gas. They are available for local or international charter or lease and for other helicopter work as well. One of them will go on to the big local contract and one of them will be available internationally for other contracts. They have 10 seats and will complement the AW139.”

Last month Abu Dhabi Aviation qualified for IS-BAO Stage III, having held Stage I certification since 2016 and Stage II since 2018. “To go to Stage III is a very difficult challenge and we have managed to meet that with the excellent support of our accountable manager Mr Mazrouei and Michel Theriault, our postholder safety. There aren’t too many IS-BAO Stage III-certified operators in the world, and we are maybe the only one in the Middle East right now, so that’s a great achievement and we’re very proud of it because safety is one of our most important priorities.”

Domestic activity has continued, despite international business losses. This has meant that Abu Dhabi Aviation has had to look at ways to be more economical, leaner and more efficient, to get through this difficult time. It continues to apply for oil and gas tenders as they emerge. “But of course, our business is more than just oil and gas,” emphasises Pierotti. “It’s also HEMS and charter. Last month we had one of our AW139s undergo a big VIP interior refurbishment by our own MRO. It has eight executive VIP seats and is now back in service in our fleet and available for charter in the VIP market, domestically and internationally.

“And then we have the fixed wing fleet too, the Q200, Q300 and Q400 Dash 8s. We wet and dry lease these aircraft and we operate them too for oil and gas and for airlines. Our other big business is the MRO business. We have multiple approvals and we are an authorised service centre for Bell and for Leonardo as part of a joint venture, AgustaWestland Aviation Services. Our MRO business is doing well and it is robust. We are very busy carrying out major and minor maintenance for helicopters around the region.”

COVID-19 has completely devastated the aviation market in the Middle East and Africa, Pierotti believes. “I’m looking out the window just now and I can see the Etihad aircraft that are all parked around Abu Dhabi International airport. Etihad is restructuring extensively and is doing its very best to get through this time. Emirates down the road in Dubai is similarly reassessing its fleet and routes. There is now a COVID corridor between the UAE and London, which has helped, so you can at least travel from Dubai to London without restrictions.

“Africa has always been a challenge to be profitable, so all the African operators are always challenged; they have extra obstacles that the rest of the world doesn’t have, such as access to qualified people, access to funding, access to good oversight. The Africans have always had these challenges. So to throw COVID in there has created a double challenge to overcome. I think Africa has really struggled, like the whole world has.”

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