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Thu 21 Apr 2011 12:53 PM

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Arab unrest spurs business-jet bookings among rich

Flight firms report surge in demand as wealthy individuals flee Middle East trouble zones

Arab unrest spurs business-jet bookings among rich
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are among preferred options for companies and families seeking to avoid unrest

Business-jet operators say Middle East demand has jumped as much as six-fold as political unrest prompts companies and wealthy individuals to flee trouble zones.

Abu Dhabi-based charter carrier Al Jaber Aviation has added 500 percent more flights in the past three months versus a year earlier, led by services from Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen, Chief Operating Officer Mark Pierotti said in an interview.

“Egypt saw the biggest increase, with high net worth individuals flying to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Europe,” Pierotti said. The company operates a mix of five Airbus SAS and Embraer SA aircraft and will add a sixth plane in May to meet demand.

Royal Jet, a luxury business carrier owned by the Abu Dhabi government, projects a 15 percent boost in sales this year and an increase in profit that will be “comfortably ahead” of targets, according to Chief Executive Officer Shane O’Hare, who says corporations have accounted for 60 percent of customers and governments 20 percent, with the rest being rich individuals.

“There was a spike around the issues in Tunisia and certainly with Egypt we saw a very sharp increase in demand,” he said. “Some of that was around evacuation, some for government missions with a lot of traffic to and fro, and this certainly helped the buoyancy of the market over the last few months.”

Royal Jet ordinarily serves customers mainly from the UAE and Saudi Arabia and operates a fleet of six Boeing Co. Business Jets, making it the largest independent operator of the model. It also has two mid-range General Dynamics Corp. Gulfstream G300s, a single long-range Gulfstream IV-SP, a Bombardier Inc Learjet 60 and an Embraer Lineage 1000.

Oil-rich Abu Dhabi and the trade hub of Dubai are among the preferred options for companies and families seeking to avoid the unrest, which began in Tunisia, toppled the government in Egypt and sparked the ongoing events in Libya, Yemen and Syria.

“It certainly appears that Dubai has become a natural haven for people,” Royal Jet’s O’Hare said.

Dubai, emerging from the 2009 debt crisis, is the Middle East’s biggest financial hub and home to the regional bases of many international companies that do business in the region.

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