A start-up is aiming to defy the perception that business people in the Gulf will only fly on airlines or large private jets. Gi Aviation will launch operations in late December with what it says is the region’s first turboprop air taxi service, using a six-seat Pilatus PC-12NG. A second example of the Swiss-built type will join it in January.

“It’s an affordable way of flying privately,” says Marios Belidis, general manager of the privately owned operator. “We saw a gap in the market between people who fly first class and rent private jets.” Gi, which is based at Abu Dhabi’s downtown Al Bateen airport, announced the venture at the Abu Dhabi Air Expo in March and has spent most of this year obtaining clearance from the authorities.

Until now, turboprops and small jets have had a patchy record in the Gulf. Although a few are owned privately in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and turboprops are used for sightseeing tours, there have been no successful air taxi enterprises. Even for short trips within the region, locals tend to prefer larger-cabin jets, with features such as air conditioning, spacious lavatories and plenty of legroom.

However, Belidis believes Gi’s bigger market will be those who now fly on airlines. The firm’s research reckons 40,000 premium seats are sold for flights within the Gulf each year – the demographic Gi believes it can tap with the PC-12NG’s “comfortable” range of up to 2.5h. “If we can capture only a few of these 40,000 flights, we will be successful,” he says.

Although Gi – it stands for Global Ideas – has placed just the two aircraft orders, Belidis says it will consider buying more “if we see the market picking up”. He acknowledges that the company will need a critical mass of aircraft for the business model to work – to cover the risk of delays and to allow layovers – but “it’s a risk we will take and one that will certainly be mitigated once we increase the fleet”.

Gi is taking a small stand at the MEBAA show to promote its presence on the market, says Belidis, who previously managed the fixed-base operation at Al Bateen and worked for Jet Aviation and Airbus. While the first PC-12 will be based at Al Bateen, Belidis plans to operate the second from Dubai’s DWC, the UAE’s other main airport for business aviation.

Meanwhile, one of the Gulf’s more established business aviation names also plans to launch an air taxi service in the next 18 months. Airbus ACJ318 and Embraer Lineage 1000 operator AJA Aviation – also based at Al Bateen – is negotiating to buy four Cessna Caravans, which it will operate under the Sky Limo or Sky Taxi brand, says chief operating officer Dr Mark Pierotti.

Pierotti believes there is a market unserved by large jets for city-to-city flights within the UAE: trips that can take 2-3h by car between Abu Dhabi and the northern emirates such as Ras Al Khaimah and Fujeirah. The 12-seat Caravans will also be configured with floats, allowing them to be flown to coastal or offshore resorts in partnership arrangements with hotel groups.

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Source: Flight International