Swiss VIP charter and management company PrivatAir is gearing up to establish a Middle Eastern base by June as part of a strategy to expand the global footprint of this high-end business aircraft services company.
"The Middle East has a huge appeal for PrivatAir," says chief executive Greg Thomas. "We have wanted to establish a PrivatAir Arabia base for some time, but now the market is ripe for the move. We plan to be up and running in Bahrain by June and if this move is successful we may consider setting up as second base in Dubai, Jeddah or Abu Dhabi."
Thomas says the Middle East has weathered the economic storm better than most of the developed countries and the potential across the region for its management and charter brand is strong.
“There are more than 300 business jets based in the region and the fleet is going to continue to grow as the world’s economies recover,” says Thomas. PrivatAir is targeting owners of larger-cabin business jets upwards remove its core business. “We are looking to manage aircraft from the size of a Bombardier Challenger 605 right up to the VIP airliners. Our plan is to have a fleet of five aircraft by the end of the year and 20 within three years,” says Thomas.
Thomas says the global recession has hit the company's charter arm hard with demand falling last year by around 40% compared with 2008. "Our aircraft management and premium class intercontinental airline shuttle services [operated on behalf of KLM, Lufthansa and Swiss] have continued to thrive however, and the company remained in profit last year," says Thomas.
PrivatAir is also exploring opportunities in India and China. Thomas says both are "ripe for business aviation, with poor transport infrastructure, underdeveloped airline network, and a growing population of millionaires. But there is no set timetable for establishing a base there."
The Geneva-based company - which has an eight-strong aircraft fleet including four Boeing Business Jets, a Boeing 757 and 767 - is evaluating a move into the nascent European very light jet air taxi market in 2011, when the industry is expected to be on the road to recovery.
"I am a firm believer in this business model, but we are not looking to buy the VLJs. We want to remain a low-risk company so our plan would be to operate the aircraft on behalf of the owners and investors - similar to the service we provide for out European airline customers," says Thomas.