In terms of timing, the launch of Gama Aviation's operation in the United Arab Emirates in mid-2009 might have seemed optimistic at best. "If anyone asked you to set up in a new market in a recession, you'd have said they were mad," admits Dave Edwards, managing director of the new Dubai-based business.

The Farnborough-headquartered aviation group - which manages a fleet of 75 aircraft - was awarded its UAE air operator's certificate in February and has a Bombardier Challenger 604, 605 and 850 on its books. An Embraer Legacy 600 joins in December. It has recruited eight pilots and four cabin crew for the operation.

Gama is also banking on a new fixed-base operation at Sharjah International airport to provide a point of difference with competitors. The facility, under construction and expected to open fully in early 2012, will offer hangarage, line maintenance and handling. The two-storey centre will also include a luxury passenger lounge.

"This is the project we've hung our hat on," says Edwards from Gama's offices in the Dubai International airport free zone. "Just relying on aircraft management would be very tough." Sharjah, one of seven semi-independent emirates in the UAE, immediately neighbours Dubai and Edwards argues its airport offers an alternative to the busy and airline-dominated Dubai International, as it is just 15min drive from the city's traditional business centre.

Although he admits the aircraft management business in the region is competitive, Edwards maintains Gama's 27 years of experience in the aviation business sets it apart. "It's all about attention to detail and how you handle the customer, off the back of learning the hard way since 1973," he says. "If we were starting here from scratch it would be much more difficult."

Source: Flight International