After long playing second fiddle to Dubai, Abu Dhabi is keen to establish itself as the leading centre for business aviation in the Gulf. The United Arab Emirates capital may lack its more glitzy and fast-paced neighbour's tourists, shimmering skyscrapers and reputation as a global trading hub.
However, Abu Dhabi has what Dubai has not - vast reserves of oil - and this has made this rather conservative city, which has its own ambitions in the upscale leisure market, optimistic about its prospects.
All over Abu Dhabi, luxury hotels such as the Emirates Palace and island complexes are springing up to cater for a clientele attracted more by culture - outposts of the Louvre and Guggenheim art galleries are being built - than the hedonistic pleasures of Dubai.
The city will also host its first Formula 1 Grand Prix next year. Top-end tourists and sports stars provide one ready market for business aviation, whether it is flying them in from Europe on business jets or directly to their accommodation and in sightseeing tours in chartered helicopters.
However, the main driver for the sector is the emirate's own business community, led by an extended royal family looking to redirect sovereign wealth from an economy growing by 12% a year into home-grown infrastructure and opportunities around the world. Recent investments range from Italian business aircraft maker Piaggio Aero to English soccer club Manchester City.
Catering to this customer base are the region's biggest charter operator Royal Jet - at five-years-old the grandfather of the sector - and two fast-growing, newer Abu Dhabi-based players, Falcon Aviation and Prestige Jet. With the patronage and billions of members of Abu Dhabi's ruling elite behind them, all three have spent heavily on new aircraft and their expansion in a short space of time has been breathtaking.
© Prestige Jet
Prestige: Moving into medevac
Although it is less than a year since its maiden flight, Prestige, based at Abu Dhabi's downtown Al Bateen air base - due to become a business aviation-only airport over the next two years (see airports feature) - already has a fleet of 15 jets, most of them at the top end of the market.
Nine aircraft are fully owned: three Embraer Legacy 600s, two Bombardier Challenger 604s, two Cessna Citation Sovereigns, one Hawker 900XP and a Cessna Citation CJ2.
In addition, it operates a leased CJ1 and two Citation Bravos, and has a Bombardier Learjet 60 and two Piaggio P180 Avantis under management. Five Gulfstream G650s, a Challenger 850, a Legacy 600, a Citation Sovereign and the first Embraer Lineage 1000 to go into service are all due for delivery.
The company is flying around 1,000h a month and its short-term target of doubling that will still leave it with a "modest" share of a rapidly expanding charter sector, says chief executive Faris Deeb.
© Prestige Jet
Deeb: Planning European bases
"The market is healthy and competition is good because it encourages us all to develop ourselves and position the UAE and Abu Dhabi as a leader," he says. Prestige plans to open European bases, in southern Europe and in Dublin, and claims to be the first Arabian operator with an air operator's certificate in Europe.
It is also intends to launch spin-off divisions in Bahrain and Qatar, basing aircraft there on local AOCs, and will be adding the word "International" to its company name to reflect its multi-site expansion.
Falcon Aviation was formed in late 2005 and operates a fleet of 11 helicopters on corporate charter as well as a search and rescue contract for the UAE military.
This year it branched this year into fixed-wing, taking delivery of a Gulfstream G450 and an Embraer Legacy 600 and will add to this next year with a second G450 and two more Legacy 600s.
It has no fewer than 21 further aircraft on order, including two of the Brazilian manufacturer's latest midsize jet, the Legacy 500. The first operator to be based at Al Bateen, the company is expanding its premises there to cope with a tenfold increase in staff to 120 and building a 5,500m2 (59,200ft2) maintenance hangar large enough to accommodate two Boeing 737s.
Abu Dhabi's policy towards business aviation is just one way the emirate wants to "differentiate itself from Dubai", says general manager Phil Markham.
Developing Al Bateen as a business aviation airport will mean local or visiting VIPs will rarely have to travel more than 15min by car from their home, office or hotel. For some their feet will scarcely touch the ground, moving from jet to waiting helicopter.
Royal Jet, the world's biggest Boeing Business Jet operator with five, has been consolidating as its two new rivals play catch-up. Its fleet also comprises two Gulfstream G300s, one GIV-SP, a Bombardier Learjet 60 and an Avro RJ85 corporate shuttle. However, with a client base that includes some of the region's wealthiest individuals, Royal Jet says business shows no signs of wobbling as a result of global pressures.
"We are yet to see any real downturn. Our budget was set 10 months ago and we are well on target to hit it," says its vice-president commercial John Morgan, who admits that the operator is "cossetted somewhat by our guest profile".
Because of the expectations of a very wealthy niche and the limited availability of airliner-based business jets, the top end of the charter market is almost immune to downturn, he believes. "Lower down the line it's incredibly competitive, but the BBJ market will remain strong because of the unique product."
With its regally backed and well-funded operators, the Abu Dhabi business aviation market is much less of a free-for-all than Dubai, which, with its more open and outward-looking business culture, has encouraged a host of entrepreneurial start-ups to base themselves there and fight it out for market share.
They tend to target a more international, broker-based clientele than Abu Dhabi, which relies much more on a domestic customer base. In typical UAE fashion the two leading emirates have opted not for messy head-to-head competition, but for different state-sanctioned business models which should be able to happily co-exist.