Abu Dhabi Air Expo: Royal Jet considers options as it looks to replace six-strong BBJ fleet by 2016

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Royal Jet will take a decision by the end of the year on replacements for its entire fleet of six Boeing Business Jets, with the Abu Dhabi company eyeing corporate versions of the Airbus A320 Neo and Bombardier CSeries, as well as Boeing's 737 Max-based replacement.

Royal Jet - the biggest operator of BBJs - is in the unusual position of having to replace all of its BBJs almost simultaneously, as they were acquired within a year or two of each other and have an average age of 12 years. It plans to introduce the new aircraft from around 2016, says chief executive Shane O'Hare.

"Although our BBJs only fly 1,200h a year, about a third of an equivalent commercial airliner, 15 to 18 years is as long as we would want to operate them," he says.

Replacing the entire BBJ fleet almost at a stroke will be "challenging" and the company will have to get its timing right, admits O'Hare. "We don't want to be operating old aircraft, but at the same time we don't want to be the launch customer for a new type."

While Royal Jet has a "fantastic relationship with Boeing, and the customers love the BBJ", O'Hare says the "competitive environment" means the company will look at offerings from Airbus and Bombardier.

One slight concern is that all six of Royal Jet's aircraft are BBJ1s, based on the 737-700, but Boeing is looking only at a 737-800 Max version of the BBJ. Although the larger airframe would allow Royal Jet to offer an additional cabin section, there would be a range penalty, says O'Hare.

Meanwhile, Royal Jet is to move from Abu Dhabi International airport to Al Bateen Executive, making it the latest operator to sign up as a tenant at the former military airbase.

The company will establish a new head office and line maintenance facility at the airport, but is likely to share the existing Dhabijet VIP terminal in the short term, while retaining its FBO at Abu Dhabi International. In the longer term, a dedicated FBO and maintenance hangar able to handle cabin refurbishments is on the cards, says O'Hare.