Look out for more Gulf investment in aerospace

I bet the move by the Abu Dhabi-owned Mubadala Development to buy a 35% stake in Piaggio won’t be the last such move by the oil-rich Gulf states into the investment-hungry aerospace sector.

Business and general aviation aircraft manufacturers provide the perfect vehicle for Arab investors, looking to channel the profits from soaring oil and gas revenues into potentially long-term and prestigious projects. While Arab-owned companies such as Dubai Ports World have been shut out of the US sea transportation market because of worries (prejudice? panic?) over security, and the defence business is a no-go area, business and general aviation provides a route “under the wire”.

Away from the “big six” of Bombardier, Cessna, Dassault, Embraer, Gulfstream and Raytheon, business and private aviation in the US and Europe is – with few exceptions – a cottage industry, populated by entrepreneurs and/or small companies who often have the designs and the ambition but lack the millions and the cash flow needed to develop new programmes. Yet the sector is expanding, and the Middle East itself is one of the biggest growth areas. Once developed, programmes have a long shelf life – the same design, with updates, can sell for 40 years.

Piaggio Aero is typical. Privately-owned (albeit with a rich, state-owned heritage and backing from none other than the Ferrari family), its P180 Avanti is arguably the sexiest business turboprop on the planet. But, after developing the Avanti II, to move up to the next level – a business jet – the Italian company needs outside help. We wrote in Flight International recently about where Piaggio is going with its business aircraft strategy.

Two years ago, a Kuwaiti investment house bought 75% of Liberty Aerospace, maker of the XL2 general aviation aircraft. Across North America, and Europe too, there are dozens of start-up or struggling manufacturers who would love to bring a new programme to market.

Of course, the Gulf countries have big ambitions to develop their own home-grown aerospace industries. Look at what Dubai is planning with DAE and what Qatar is doing in Doha. But, in the meantime, business aviation is where a lot of Middle Eastern money will end up. Look out for more announcements at EBACE and NBAA






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