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Sun 6 Aug 2006 04:00 AM

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Come join the jet set

The days of the private aviation industry being a multi-millionaire’s playground are long gone. Today, the region’s executive jet market is experiencing unprecedented growth and business leaders are increasingly using the Ferraris of the skies to hold private and secure meetings. CEO Middle East fastens its seatbelt and flies you through a comprehensive look at how to get to key conferences at lightening speed

|~||~||~|To say that the region is booming in every way possible would be an understatement. Despite recent outbreaks of violence in the Middle East including the conflict between Israel and Lebanon and the ongoing insurgency in Iraq, the region has seen unprecedented growth levels throughout almost all of its major business sectors. And, in turn, according to Merrill Lynch and Capgemini’s tenth joint World Wealth Report, is producing more millionaires then ever before.

Not surprisingly, the luxury travel market is reaping the benefits of this rise in prosperity and an increasing number of chief executives are turning to the private aviation sector to flexibly jet from one meeting to another in luxury, privacy and, above all, security.

According to Airclaims, a leading international consultancy and claims management services provider to the global aerospace industry, Middle East fleet growth in 2005 soared by 18% compared to the Asian market’s 8%. Canadian plane manufacturer Bombardier, for example recently announced at the Farnborough air show in the UK that it predicts 600 to 700 corporate jets will be sold each year in both 2007 and 2008.

Paras Dhamecha, CEO of Elite Jets, has seen both his business’s turnover and profit more than double in 2005, compared to Elite’s first year of operations in 2004. And he adds that the projections for 2006 are “even better” due to increased sales and charter activity.

Dhamecha attributes the growth to the increase in wealth and the knock-on effects this has had, drawing in more aircraft manufacturers to selling their planes and services to the region’s increasing number of big earners.

“The number of business jets registered in the Middle East has grown by one-fifth over the past ten years. Due to the economic situation in the region, attributed mainly to the price of oil and the attraction to the use of private jets, many manufacturers are currently focusing on the Middle East market.

“There is a lot of confidence in the buoyancy of this market and the increased number of jet sales is a good indicator. We believe that the current growth is just a beginning,” he adds.
Mike Berry, managing director for ExecuJet Middle East, the most comprehensive of all the private plane companies that has its own maintenance and spare parts complex at the Dubai Airport Free Zone, also says the past 12 months have been the most positive that the company has seen.

“The last financial year has been our best for a long time. We have more than doubled revenue on aircraft sales and taken on board a whole new maintenance stream. Our US $10 million complex will soon have it’s own FBO (Fixed Base Operation) so clients will be able to easily check in and out in 15 minutes.”

Hugh Courtenay, CEO of International Air Charter, agrees and has also seen boom times in recent months. “Last year we had sales of US $400,000 per month. This year we have seen an 80% increase with sales reaching US $750,000 per month and our estimated turnover for the year will be in the region of between US $8 and $9 million.”

So why the rise in popularity, especially with the cost of jet fuel rocketing in recent times? Courtenay goes as far as to say that in the four years he has been in the region, the adhoc charter market has gone from being “virtually non-existent to a multi-million dollar business where demands far outstrips supply.”

All three of the jet company bosses have seen their customer base rise dramatically, however it is the business and corporate sector in particular that is clamouring for private, secure and luxurious airtime in 2006 and beyond. Berry says the days of a private jet being thought of as a rich man’s toy are long gone and have now been replaced by that of a “business tool”.

Courtenay adds that with many corporate headquarters now based in the Middle East, CEO’s have realised the flexibility that charter flights allow them, particularly as frequent travelling within the region means time consuming and often costly indirect scheduled flights as opposed to speedy check-ins, impressive facilities and personalised services for your business needs.

“By taking a private jet, a CEO can save time and cost, reaching their destination directly and with the flexibility to reach several destinations in one day,” Courtenay adds.||**||

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