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Sun 18 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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From the ground up

The corporate jet market is seeing significant growth in the air transport industry, but its success depends on the provision of a solid infrastructure.

The corporate jet market is seeing significant growth in the air transport industry, but its success depends on the provision of a solid infrastructure.

The Middle East has the advantage of location when it comes to serving the business and private jet market, and it is the UAE region that is recording some impressive traffic figures.

Currently there are around 380 corporate and private jets based in the Middle East. This number is expected to grow to 900 jets over the next six years. Industry forecasts predict that 15,000 business jets worth a total of US$192 billion will be purchased over the next decade.

We have around 3,200 metres of terminal space available at Al Bateen and an additional 1,200 metres of VVIP facilities.

The UAE's strategic location makes it an aviation hub favoured by executives and VVIP's who require short and convenient journey times and airport facilities that can cater to their every need, as well as accommodate a range of private and business jets.

At this year's Farnborough Air Show, Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC) announced the development of its military airbase at Al Bateen into a dedicated private jet facility.

ADAC operates Abu Dhabi International airport and Al Ain airport but sees a gap in the market for operating in this niche sector. "The purpose of this development is to have a significant facility in the market," says Rudy Vercelli, chief executive of ADAC.

"The city is showing strong growth in this kind of traffic - around 18% year on year and this needs to be catered to. Passengers will have access to three terminals and aircraft can park at one of 30 stands. Royal Jet is already servicing jets out of the facility, but there is limited space with the current infrastructure. Once complete, Al Bateen will welcome other private jet airlines."

Located 10 kilometres from Abu Dhabi city centre, the Al Bateen facility will be renamed City Airport. It will cater to the VIP market and the various design phases will see the development of airport services and passenger terminals, fuel and ground handling and other fixed-base operational services.

ADAC is investing $54 million into developing Al Bateen and it will be able to accommodate a full range of executive jets, including 737s and Airbus A320s. Facilities will also cater to VVIP customers.

"We have around 3200 metres of terminal space available at Al Bateen and an additional 1200 metres of VVIP facilities, so we see this as a growing market," Vercelli points out.

ADAC's investment will see upgrades to the airfield infrastructure, including runway surfacing, lighting and electrical power and operational equipment. A corporate jet maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) centre at the airport is also planned in the future.

"The site offers a unique strategic location just minutes from the heart of the UAE's capital city. The facilities already in place will allow us to accommodate more corporate jet operations immediately," explains HE Khalifa Al Mazrouei, chairman and managing director of ADAC.

"In parallel, we will implement our investment programme, which will create one of the best executive airports in the world. As a growing centre of international business and finance, Abu Dhabi has seen significant growth in the number of corporate jets coming to the city over the last few years.  With this development, we are able to meet that demand today and into the future."In Dubai, projected flight movements predict similar growth in the corporate jet sector to that of Abu Dhabi.

Dubai Airports, owner of Dubai International and Al Maktoum International Airport, which is currently under construction at Dubai World Central, operates an Executive Flight Centre (EFC).

The EFC at Dubai is one of the busiest in the world and has recorded a 600% rise since its inception in 1985. In 2008, 7586 private and business aircraft were handled at the centre.

The rise in fuel prices has contributed to the demand for jets, as seats on commercial flights have become more costly.

A new terminal and facilities have recently opened to accommodate the 8887 flight movements predicted for next year, a growth of 18%.

Services at EFC focus on delivering a quick and stress-free experience for customers. The centre provides all ground support equipment and luxury transportation from aircraft to the terminal and vice versa.

At the dedicated executive terminal, private lounges house business centres and wi-fi facilities, while landside transportation takes customers to their chosen destination, and hotel reservations are organised on request.

"The location is our advantage, while the service and handling quality is our unique selling point," explains Jamal Bin Krishan, general manager of the General Aviation Department for the Aviation Unit of Dubai Airports.

The terminal handles around 20 flights in 24 hours during an off peak period, with numbers peaking to over 60 during busy seasons.

Paradoxically, the rise in fuel prices has, according to Bin Krishan, contributed to the demand for executive jets. As first and business class seats on commercial flights have become more costly, the option of travelling in a private jet is no longer just limited to celebrities.

With executive jet operations expected to begin at Al Maktoum International in 2009, Dubai Airports plans to expand its EFC services into Dubai World Central at Jebel Ali.

Following an economic boom in the area, Bahrain has witnessed an increasing demand for air transport and, in particular, the corporate and business jet market.

According to reports in the regional press, the expansion of Bahrain international airport has brought with it the launch of a specialised plane rental company. A group of Bahraini and Gulf investors are planning to set up the plane rental company, which is considered to be the first of its kind in the region.

With a capital of $50 million, the company is to launch its operations in the local market by the beginning of the year and in the second stage of its plan, it will purchase planes and rent them to carriers, including those that provide corporate jet services.

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