By Staff writer
Entering its second year, the annual Middle East Business Aviation (MEBA) conference and exhibition is evidence that the business jet sector is on the rise.
The region’s business aviation sector continues to grow substantially as VIPs and business travellers look towards a swift transit, rather than to be kept waiting at airports to check in and collect baggage.
Business jets cater to these needs and the adage “you get what you pay for” certainly rings true among the elites that come from, or are drawn to, the region.
As a result of this growing demand, the Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA) was set up last year, effectively born out of the 2005 Middle East Business Aviation conference, and MEBA manages the second annual Middle East Business Aviation conference on behalf of MEBAA.
This year’s MEBA is drawing on its success from last year’s one-day conference, which had been scheduled the day before the Dubai Airshow. The day was the first event to test the market to see what interest it would generate and how it could develop further. Now, the MEBA conference has evolved into an annual event, with the most recent due to be held at the end of the month at Dubai’s Airport Expo.
The event is to be advocated by HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saaed Al Maktoum, president of the Department of Civil Aviation, Government of Dubai and chairman of Emirates Group, who has shown strong support for the emerging business jet sector. The number of business jets now operating in the region stands at an impressive 18%, a figure that fast outstrips the rest of Asia.
Targeting aircraft operators and service providers, MEBA has hired professional event organisers, Fairs & Exhibitions, to run the show. The UK based company, which also has an office in Dubai, will have aerospace director Alison Weller at the helm. Weller explains that the conference will not only cover how to fly a business jet and the affordability of chartering an aircraft, but in one session, participants can discover all the financial options available.
“You don’t have to own a business aircraft outright – this could cost anything from US$25 million for the privilege,” she points out. “But you can charter and lease it or have fractional ownership, such as a wheel or a wing or nose. Day two of the conference focuses on industry suppliers such as the manufacturers, plus open skies policies in the region.”
According to Weller, the associations representing business aviation exist all around the world with representation in Europe, US, the Far East and Australia. The Middle East has not been covered until now.
“We have celebrated our 10th anniversary of the Dubai Airshow – we’ve been going for 18 years and the show is held alternate years. We’ve grown steadily and we reflect the aviation industry in the Middle East,” she says.
Home to around 320 operating business aircraft, the conference looks set to be very important to the region. Weller is expecting this figure to grow substantially in the future, with most private aircraft belonging to the government, charter companies or owned by private individuals.
The business aviation market has many advantages, she asserts, because it is fast becoming a viable cost affordable option to flying business or first class on a commercial flight. “It’s more practical in terms of people time, it’s much easier to hop on a business aircraft and fly to your destination in a day than fly on a scheduled flight in business or first class. In the Middle East, they are using it to the full extent.”
MEBA was set up in June last year and six months later it launched with Ali Al Naqbi as the association’s first chairman. There are currently 13 members and it is hoped this will increase to 30 by the end of next year.
“We at Fairs & Exhibitions and organisers of MEBA are going to cover MEBAA’s aims, values, mission and strategies. We are looking to increase the region’s awareness of the industry and drive forward best of breed practices,” Weller expands. “Its founding members include Saudi Arabia-based National Air Services (NAS), Bahrain-based BexAir , Abu Dhabi-based Royal Jet and major aircraft manufacturers including Gulfstream, Boeing Business Jet and Airbus Corp. Jets.”
Weller says that this year the event will be separate from the Dubai Airshow that is being held in November. The organisers selected Airport Expo Dubai to host the conference, allowing 24 exhibitors to bring their aircraft and park next to the site.
“The event has attracted around 80 industry exhibitors internationally. A lot of local operators’ charters, leasing companies and international manufacturers are taking up our 15 chalets, which is great for corporate hospitality and building rapport with potential customers. The chalets have balconies which are ideal for viewing the flying displays,” describes Weller.
“The company’s aircraft will be parked directly in front of the chalet and there’s nothing better than to test fly an aircraft to get the feeling of the luxury, understand the corporate aviation market, and see how they fit the aircraft. One key area of the conference will focus on the interiors of the aircraft,” she adds.
The event will attract a range of companies, such as those that deal with mapping, scheduling and weather. These are all firms that help contribute to a successful business jet plan and ensure it to flow smoothly. Dubai World Central will also be present at the event as the new airport plans to facilitate for business aircraft from its position in Jebel Ali.
Attracting potential buyers, current owners, operators and pilots, Weller also reveals that Hollywood aviators such as the Tom Cruises and John Travoltas of this world send their pilots to shop around at such exhibitions.
A new trend appears to be taking off amongst the corporates in the Middle East whereby business jets are no longer viewed as the exclusive domain of royals and top VIPs, instead they are increasingly being utilised by business people and senior professionals.
“The Middle East corporate industry may well consider the business aircraft option rather than sending their employees first or business class. It’s actually cost effective to hire one. In the US air taxis are a big thing,” she elaborates.
Another new trend is VLJs (very light jets). These are lighter than business jets, seating between three and nine passengers and a crew member. A number of designs are currently under development, but Weller is hoping that the VLJs will have a presence at the event. She says advantages include having lower operating costs than conventional jets, being able to operate from shorter runways and they are good for point to point air taxi services.
The benefits of the air taxi option are greatest for those passengers who don’t want to hang around the airport for hours; checking in or waiting to board and to collect luggage.
To illustrate her point, Weller presents the example of a jet flying from New York to Orlando, picking up someone else on route, in similar fashion to a taxi service. This, she maintains, would be considerably quicker than going the conventional route.
“It more than compensates for not having to wait around at an airport. Also, at approximately $2000 for a flight, it’s good value. Although it’s possible that you might pay a similar fare to travel first class, you’ve saved yourself some time.”
The business aviation market looks set to grow substantially in the next few years, especially with MEBA firmly behind it. Certainly the number of charter companies developing in the region has doubled in the last couple of years. ExecuJet Middle East, for instance, has more than doubled its number of employees with the introduction of a new service facility and the construction of a VIP terminal at its Dubai headquarters.
“We, as organisers of the Dubai Airshow, helped develop the event because suddenly a lot of our exhibitors and customers were people in this business aviation market. They are coming out of Dubai Airport Free Zone, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Bahrain, and stretch across the region,” she smiles. “The 15% to 20% growth that MEBA predict is spot on.”