Lebanese business aviation services company Executive Aircraft Services (EAS) is expanding its Beirut base in an attempt to strengthen its position in the booming Middle East business aircraft market.
The move is also designed to boost EAS's appeal with its existing customers and leading international operators for whom it provides charter, handling and local expertise.
EAS is one of only two charter operators in Lebanon, where years of political conflict and instability have taken their toll on the business aircraft market.
"We have seen movements [at our fixed-base operation] fall from around 120 a month in 2004/2005 to around 60 today," says Nael Chehab, EAS's operations and sales manager.
The Israeli airstrikes on Beirut during the third quarter of 2006 was a low point for EAS, whose aircraft were stranded at its Rafic Hariri International airport base for a month, he says. Instability in the country has hit Lebanon's tourism industry particularly hard, Chehab adds.
"Before the recent conflicts, Lebanon used to be a popular holiday destination for Saudi Arabians and we would be particularly busy during the summer months. Now they are coming less and less."
The downturn in charter activity and handling has persuaded EAS to diversify into sales, management and operational support. Last month the company broke ground on a new hangar, which will provide sheltered parking for business aircraft. An aircraft maintenance operation is also being planned "in the near future".
"We continue to be busy and we expect the market to pick up," says Chehab. "Lebanon is strategically situated within the Midddle East close to both key and emerging commercial centres in Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates."
EAS operates a BAe 125-700, which it plans to replace with a Hawker 800XP this year. The company also manages a Bombarider Global 5000, which will be upgraded in the coming months to the larger XRS stablemate.
"We are popular with western operators, such as TAG Aviation, because we have a good knowledge of the Middle East and we can facilitate their operations throughout the region," Chehab adds.