One of the newest names in business aviation in the Middle East, Rotana Jet, believes it can tap an unfilled market for short-haul jet flights within the UAE.

The company, which launched operations under its air operator's certificate last year with a Gulfstream G450 - used for conventional VIP charter - plans to broaden its business with two very different types, which will enter operation this year.

The first is an Airbus A319 airliner being configured to seat 32 "business class" passengers and 18 in economy. The aircraft, which is being completed in Toulouse and will be delivered in August, will be pitched at customers such as sports teams and performing artists.

The other aircraft are two leased 50-seat Embraer 145s, which will be ready for service in May. Unusually, Rotana Jet plans to trial domestic routes, initially on charter but eventually possibly as scheduled services, pitched at executives travelling on business.

Although driving between the country's two main population centres - Abu Dhabi and Dubai - takes a little over an hour, journeys by road to the UAE's smaller emirates and outlying cities can take much longer. "We want to test the market, possibly using Al Bateen as a base," says Rotana Jet chief executive Philip Markham.

Although operating such routes with turboprops such as ATRs or Bombardier Q400s would be more efficient, "customer expectations" in the Middle East make it necessary to use jets, says Markham. "There is just not an acceptance of turboprops in this market."

Rotana Jet has opened offices and a hangar at Al Bateen and plans to offer third-party line maintenance. "We'd like to end up with several sources of revenue, so that when one dips, we don't suffer too much," he says.

Meanwhile, Markham's former company and fellow Al Bateen tenant, helicopter specialist Falcon Aviation Services, is riding high on the back of a booming oil exploration sector in the Gulf. FAS provides transport to rig workers for a number of oil companies using a fleet of 11 Bell 412s - a 12th is due for delivery in May.

"Our offshore business is growing exponentially with 70 to 80 take-offs and landings a day," says vice-president of business development and strategy AJ Baker.

The company plans to add five larger helicopters and although Baker will not confirm the type, he admits being "very impressed" with the new Sikorsky S-76D.

FAS's fixed-wing business - it operates an Embraer Lineage 1000 and two Legacy 600s, as well as a Gulfstream G450 - has also enjoyed a strong last few months. "We set a new record for revenue in October and have broken that each month to January," says Baker. "The swing from a year or two ago is incredible and it indicates a lot of confidence in the market."

While helicopters represent the bulk of FAS's turnover, at 60%, with fixed-wing making up 30%, Baker has high hopes for the company's new third-party maintenance activities. It is opening a hangar at Al Bateen in May.

Source: Flight International