Abu Dhabi-based charter operator Royal Jet says the downturn in the business aviation market has brought one positive result - it has eased the capacity squeeze at specialist completion centres.
The company is spending $50 million to refurbish all five of its Boeing Business Jets with new in-flight entertainment systems, 180º lie-flat beds and - on its three BBJs fitted with bedrooms - showers.
Even for the world's biggest BBJ operator, until recently such a project would have probably meant waiting in line as the handful of completion facilities capable of handling such a project battled to meet demand. Today, the situation is reversed. "Six months ago, the biggest delay in putting a new aircraft into service was the completion backlog," says chief executive Shane O'Hare. "Now we have centres coming to us with immediate slots."
© Royal Jet
The first BBJ will go in for refurbishment at Goderich Aircraft in Ontario, Canada in June, but Royal Jet is inviting tenders for the other four. The aircraft are between four and seven years old and each refit will take about five months.
However, despite its base of wealthy Arab patrons, Royal Jet has not been immune to the downturn. O'Hare says a decision to add a sixth BBJ has been deferred to the end of the first quarter "so we can get a better understanding of the market". With prices coming down, he says the choice is between a low-hours secondhand BBJ or securing a production slot from another customer.
He adds: "We increased our revenues by 21% in 2008 and have started 2009 very strongly. But we are forecasting slower growth. We would be silly to be bullish about a market that isn't bullish."
Royal Jet also operates a Gulfstream GIV-SP and two G300s, an Avro RJ85 and a Bombardier Learjet 60 mainly for medevac flights. It will shortly take on a Challenger 604 and a 605 under management.
The company also plans to shortly announce a new venture in Saudi Arabia to better serve customers in the kingdom. It has launched a brokerage in Dubai to offer flights on third-party aircraft, particularly during summer when demand is high for short-haul travel among wealthy Gulf nationals on vacation in Europe.
"We'll be partnering with high-quality operators, but using the strength of the Royal Jet brand with our customers," says O'Hare.