Business aviation MRO catches up with growth of sector

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The maintenance, repair and overhaul sector has failed to keep pace with the growth of the business aviation fleet in the Middle East, and the lack of competition and capacity has been a frequent complaint of the region's operators.

Could this be about to change? The dip in Dubai's fortunes and last year's global downturn put the brakes on the runaway growth of business aviation in the Middle East. However, the resilience of the other Gulf economies - particularly Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Qatar - has meant that more business jets than ever are operating, or due to be delivered in the region.

This is especially true at the top end of the market, which is dominated by Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Dassault, Embraer and Gulfstream large-cabin and airliner-derived types.

Business jet MRO is, of course, a different beast to its commercial counterpart. There are more types, in much smaller numbers and the way the aircraft are cycled is different. The main airline-based MRO houses tend to leave business jet maintenance to specialists, because of the low volumes involved and the expertise required rarely justify the investment.

For most of the previous decade, the region's two main specialist maintenance providers were the Swiss pairing of Jet Aviation and ExecuJet, which have fixed-base operations and maintenance hangars at the free trade zone at Dubai International airport. ExecuJet has also said it plans to build a second facility at the city's under-construction giant Al Maktoum International airport, although the whole airport project has slowed on the back of the emirate's financial problems.

Both companies cover most of the business jets operating in the region. Jet Aviation's hangar can take two Airbus Corporate Jets or Boeing Business Jets and as well as ACJs and BBJs the operation is approved for larger Gulfstreams, Dassault Falcons and the Hawker 800 series among others. ExecuJet specialises in Bombardiers and has a partnership in the region with the Canadian manufacturer.

Its facility also contains a bonded store for Bombardier and Honeywell parts.

Royal Jet - the biggest Boeing Business Jet operator with five - is establishing its own maintenance hangar next to its FBO at Abu Dhabi International airport next year, with an unnamed overseas partner. The charter operator - whose chairman is UAE government minister Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mubarak Al Nayan - has not said if it will offer third-party maintenance, but the focus will be on maintaining its own BBJs, which it has until now had to send overseas for service.

Another Abu Dhabi operator, Falcon Aviation Services, has also expanded its maintenance centre at its base at the city's Al Bateen air base, which is being converted into a dedicated downtown business airport. Falcon specialises in helicopter charters, but has moved into business jets with a Gulfstream G450 and Legacy 600.