With Bahrain's economy based on banking as much as oil and gas, it is no surprise that demand for executive aviation in the kingdom dropped during the global financial crisis. But the country's longest-serving business aviation company says the worst is over.
Allaeddine El Hattab, president and chief executive of Bexair, says it has been a tough couple of years for the charter and fixed-base operation company, but he believes that in the latter part of 2009 the company has seen some signs of recovery.
Demand for executive aircraft is increasing as more business comes to Bahrain
"The Formula One Grand Prix certainly made a big difference," El Hattab says. "We handled around 100 jets during that week alone, and we hope an event like the Bahrain air show will do the same."
Bexair manages the only FBO at Bahrain International airport, but the government is believed to be looking at allowing other FBOs to open as the airport develops. "There is a lot more business coming to Bahrain again. The demand is increasing," El Hattab says.
Bexair has seen new funding coming into the company and is developing another base in Saudi Arabia operating with Saudi Arabian and Bahraini air operator's certificates.
"Saudi is the biggest market in the region and I am optimistic that as the region's only fully integrated FAR-135/JAR Ops-1 compliant charter operator the future for Bexair is good," he says.
While Dubai and increasingly Abu Dhabi are the nerve-centres of business aviation in the Gulf, Bahrain's proximity to the large Saudi market and its prosperous neighbours Kuwait and Qatar give the island kingdom some advantages as a hub for charter operations and services, according to Ralph Eisenschmid, acting chief executive of the country's newest charter operator, Mena Aerospace .
With no landing or parking fees at the country's international airport, operating costs are also lower than they are in Dubai, where much of the region's charter fleet is registered and based, he says.
Mena received its Bahraini air operator's certificate in January 2009 and flies a Bombardier Challenger 300 as well as a Boeing 737 freighter, under management. The company also runs a line maintenance organisation specialising in Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer aircraft, and a parts support centre for airlines using Bahrain's international airport.
It plans to build its own hangar and move into heavy maintenance, possibly this year. "There is a shortage of maintenance facilities in this part of the world," says Eisenschmid.
About half of the Bahraini-owned company's charter business comes from Saudi Arabia, and around 30% from its home market. Although, as for most charter operators in the Middle East and beyond, 2009 was a tough year, Eisenschmid says Bahrain was less affected than other countries. "The Bahrain bubble did not inflate so much, so there wasn't so much deflating as there was elsewhere," he says.