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Gama raises the bar after Sharjah switch

Posted 14 September 2017 · Add Comment

Gama Aviation's brave move of its FBO from Dubai International Airport to Sharjah International Airport back in 2010 is paying off with a 45% increase in movements for the first four months of 2017. Dave Calderwood reports.

Gama has been so encouraged by the steadily rising traffic to its spectacular FBO at Sharjah that, working with the airport authority, it is embarking on a major $25 million-plus investment in developing the business aviation facilities.
Operators have seen the benefits of being at an international airport that’s close to Dubai city centre but has no restrictions over slots.
“It’s about time, to be honest,” said Richard Lineveldt, new managing director of Gama Aviation UAE. “That’s tremendous. As ever, we qualify that by saying we’re heading into the summer now so it will probably even out over the next few months but we’re very pleased with progress so far.
“We started at Sharjah in 2012 as the exclusive provider of business aviation services and opened our FBO terminal in 2014. Since then, we’ve seen a really good and healthy increase, which has accelerated from the beginning of 2017. We believe that is the result of a very clear and focussed awareness campaign, rather than for any operational reason in the region.
“The reason for the move [from Dubai International] was that it was running out of space. The group made a decision to move to Sharjah, north of Dubai International, for the future as the airport is relatively close to the centre of Dubai but also doesn’t suffer from the capacity problems at Dubai International.
“We’ve been successful from the start in attracting people from the region as they compare Sharjah to the busier airports in Dubai. They’ve seen the benefits of a more relaxed airport, with no slot restrictions at all, and ample parking.”
It’s not just local operators who are taking advantage of Sharjah’s welcome. Others further afield, encouraged by the Gama FBO’s international standard for business aircraft handlers (IS-BAH) approval as well as the facilities, are coming.
“When you talk to European or North American operators, who are looking for a fuel or tech stop in the region, Dubai would be the natural choice. But they haven’t been able to get in for whatever reason,” continued Lineveldt. “They look wider and Sharjah comes up. We’ve made a really concentrated marketing effort in getting the word out and it seems to have worked.”
Of course, having all that space and no restriction is all very well, but clients then have to get into Dubai, and that’s taken a special effort working with the national government. Road access, in particular, has been a sore point.
“In the past, it’s been difficult because there was only one major road between Dubai and Sharjah. Historically it’s been very busy and congested with traffic.
“The government has now invested in two additional highways between the two emirates and one of them links up to Sharjah International Airport. Traffic now, although I would admit it’s busy, is nothing like it used to be five or six years ago.
“We also offer a helicopter shuttle but there isn’t enough demand and understanding of the benefits from the clients at the moment. However, this is definitely something we’re working on. When we build the new business aviation centre, it will have both a landside and an airside helicopter landing pad and, obviously, we would like that facility to be used by our clients.”
The new Gama Sharjah Business Aviation Centre will be a secure, gated facility that will have 10,000sqm of hangarage space and 20,000sqm of external apron parking.
The hangarage will be used for heavy maintenance, parking and storage, as well as housing Gama’s engineering company, Gama FZE Services.
The FBO will be expanded and the new building will also have Gama’s our offices as well.
“So we will have one central facility, which will run the entire Gama Middle East operation at Sharjah International Airport,” said Lineveldt.
“We are aiming to open in the last quarter of 2018. The facility will have direct road access from the airport road, it will basically be a Gama signature design and follow the aesthetics of our existing facilities in Glasgow.
“It will have enough space to accommodate the growing desire or need for covered parking. Aircraft owners in the region are becoming more aware of the value of parking inside an air-conditioned hangar, especially during the summer months, and there is really a lack of facilities (in the region) to handle these aircraft.”
Gama is working with the Sharjah International Airport Authority to enable growth of the business aviation industry in the region, explained Lineveldt.
“In so doing, we hope to motivate people to move their aircraft and operations to Sharjah. We can assist them in all aspects of handling the aircraft, looking after the crew and passengers, and obviously maintaining the aircraft and parking it for them. We can take anything up to a BBJ or ACJ and we’ll have ample ramp parking to take care of the larger corporate airliners.”
While expanding the facility at Sharjah, Gama is also growing its fleet of managed aircraft. Two new Learjets, a 60 and a 60XR, have been added recently, bringing the total to 11 managed aircraft.
“The Learjets are operated as executive charter but we think a very good application for them will be in the field of air ambulance. Both have the capabilities to re-role into medevac configuration,” said Lineveldt.
“Based on regional instability, the ramping up of military conflicts and the support services that are normally required around those, I think we are going to be well-positioned to offer air ambulance services into the region and back into Dubai.
“Dubai’s health industry is starting to become known as a centre of excellence, and insurance companies are happy to take patients there.
“There is only one air ambulance based in the UAE at the moment – the others are mostly by European operators – so the insurance companies are very excited by the prospect of using these aircraft.”
Lineveldt has been part of Gama’s operations in the Middle East since the beginning, back in 2008, when he was the very first employee. Since then he’s risen through the ranks to manage various parts of the business, becoming managing director earlier this year – just as Gama received a local award for best Middle East business aviation provider and also a strategic partnership award by the Sharjah Aviation Authority.
 

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