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  • Dubai 09: Middle East spearheads business aviation recovery

Dubai 09: Middle East spearheads business aviation recovery

A substantial showing from manufacturers and bullish commitments from operators and service providers reinforced the claim that the Middle East is spearheading business aviation's recovery.

Two of the biggest exhibitors were Cessna - the manufacturer worst hit by the downturn but with its largest-ever display at the show - and business jet reseller and completions specialist Aero Toy Store of Florida, making its Dubai debut.

The region's extended royal families and oil fortunes have ensured that demand for top-end business jets, including those made by Airbus and Boeing, has remained robust in the Middle East throughout the past 18 months.

The industry is hoping that increased luxury leisure travel to and from the region and a rebound in investment will give a further boost to the market.

Canny buyers in the Gulf are spotting bargains in the new and used market as manufacturers struggle to adjust output downwards from the highs of 2008, says Gary Anzalone, senior vice-president at Aero Toy Store. "People here are opportunistic and realise that the values aircraft have settled into today are likely to be at an all-time low. They also see that manufacturers have reduced their capabilities, so very shortly you will see a shortage of new aircraft supply," he says.

Although perhaps not in the volumes that a slew of new local operators placed orders two years ago, several notable deals were announced at the show.

Comlux - the biggest operator of Airbus corporate jets - is to take a third A319-based ACJ, taking its total commitments for the manufacturer's aircraft to 10, two of which will be based at a new joint venture with MAZ Aviation in Saudi Arabia.

Jordan's Arab Wings said it was adding four business jets to its managed fleet. New Abu Dhabi operator Al Jaber Aviation is ramping up its Embraer and Airbus fleet, taking delivery of its first of four A318 Elites in the next few weeks.

Qatar Airways spin-off Qatar Executive is adding two Bombardier Challenger 850s to its existing pair of Challenger 605s and a Challenger 300 to tap the growing market for private aviation from the country's capital Doha.

Austrian block charter specialist VistaJet, the world's biggest business aviation operator after NetJets, is targeting Saudi Arabian travellers to Europe and beyond by looking to partner with a local business. The Middle East represents about one-tenth of the company's global revenues, but founder Thomas Flohr says he expects that to grow to a third.

Abu Dhabi-based Royal Jet, one of the region's first private aviation carriers and the world's biggest Boeing Business Jet operator with a fleet of five, announced its commitment to set up a maintenance facility to handle its own and other companies' aircraft, in partnership with an unnamed partner.

Royal Jet is refurbishing its five BBJs and the first of these rejoins the fleet in a few weeks. "It will be the most technologically advanced BBJ in the world," says chief executive Shane O'Hare.

Dubai-based Project Phoenix - which specialises in remarketing used Bombardier Challenger CRJ200s installed with a business cabin - says it is looking at expanding its programme into Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 family jets. The company believes the market is ripe in the Middle East for a lower-cost rival to the airframers' own straight-from-the-factory VIP jets.

"At the moment it is a toss-up between Airbus and Boeing," says the company's president Mike Cappuccitti. "The 737 is a proven airliner, but the fleet is ageing so that might tip us towards Airbus."

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