Organisers of the Middle East Business Aviation (MEBA) event have reported visitor figures showing a 20% increase on the 2010 edition with 7,549 attendees from 84 countries - 37 nations more than the previous show. There was also a 14% increase in the number of exhibitors
MEBA was the first show to be held at the Dubai World Central master-planned aerotropolis. MEBA packed the future passenger terminal with 385 exhibitors from 45 countries while 45 aircraft from most of the world’s mainline manufacturers dotted an easy-to-navigate static park which fronted packed corporate chalets.
The show took off with a high level opening with HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, president, Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and chairman of the Emirates Group and Dubai Airports who spent two hours touring the 19,033 square metre show including the new-to-market pavilions representing the USA and Malta.
“We have invested here to accommodate growth and to create demand – an approach we are known for,” he said. “We will press ahead with the development of the dedicated show site which will open next November and we could see passenger aircraft arriving here before then,” he said.
The opening delegation’s power line-up included: HE Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister for Foreign Trade; Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways’ CEO; Ali Ahmed Al Naqbi, Founding Chairman of the Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA) and Khalifa Al Zaffin, Chairman of Dubai World Central. All stamped the show a “must-attend” as it climbs the rankings to the world’s third largest business aviation exhibition.
Al Naqbi delivered a bullish forecast saying the regional business aviation market, currently valued at US $493 million, will be worth US $1billion by 2018. “Quite simply there is huge growth potential here,” he said. “Regional business aviation traffic has risen 12% in the past year and its installed fleet will expand from the current 500 to 1,300 aircraft by 2020.”
Spurring the growth, said Al Naqbi would be moves towards regional regulation of the sector. MEBAA, he explained is to collaborate with 23 regional authorities to help draft a “much-needed” regional business aviation policy with Saudi Arabia and the UAE targeted in the first development phase.
“We have reached a joint initiative agreement with the US-headquartered General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) to assist us with the draft which is an essential growth driver for the sector. The MENA region is on the threshold of rapid business aviation expansion yet the potential is held back by the lack of a dedicated regulatory environment for the sector.”
MENA’s business aviation sector is currently governed by commercial airline policies which can delay aircraft licencing and aircraft type licence modifications.
“Business aviation is not commercial aviation,” said Al Naqbi. “It should not be regulated as such: it needs access to airports and airspace, airport infrastructure tailored to its needs, and the freedom to operate with flexibility and agility.”
Al Naqbi said region wide change could take time – between one and three years – but the process, he said, has begun. “It is a win for the region, a win for the industry. It will help manufacturers sell more aircraft here, it will boost traffic flow at our FBOs, it will spur the service sector and ultimately assist the growth of the MEBA show, which is a weathervane to how the regional sector is performing.”
Meanwhile Sheikha Lubna, ranked by Forbes magazine as the world’s “most powerful Arab woman” was upbeat on the region’s business aviation prospects.
“This region is very affluent, we have invested in the right facilities for which we are now reaping the rewards with this expansive show,” she said. “The market is growing with increasing use of corporate and private jets for both business and pleasure and I think we have a sector here that still has huge untapped reserves.”
Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker was effusive in his assessment of opportunities. “Everyone in the industry is waking up to the fact that this is an important market,” he said. “There is infinite potential here.”
It didn’t take long for the potential to emerge with the second day seeing Dassault Falcon, the business jet arm of Dassault Aviation, concluding the sale of a pre-owned Falcon 900EX EASy II and a new, tri-engine Falcon 900LX to Saudi Arabia’s Wallan Aviation and Abu Dhabi-headquartered Royal Jet unveiling on MEBA’s second day 2013 plans for fleet expansion and refurbishment.
“Royal Jet is currently investing $9 million in the interior refurbishment of its Boeing Business Jets,” explained Shane O’Hare, President and CEO of the international luxury flight services company. “Upgrades include a new, state-of-the-art, in-flight entertainment system, live TV, SATCOM, Wi-Fi and global mobile systems, while furnishings, such as luxury seats and sleeper beds will also be enhanced. We are also assessing our long-term fleet plan, which would include replacement of the existing BBJ fleet by 2016.”
If Royal Jet’s experience is anything to go by; they have had a stellar 2012 outperforming its operational and financial targets with it’s busiest-ever year for medical evacuation operations – the business aviation upturn is visible within the MENA. The second day also saw the UAE capital’s Falcon Aviation Services (FAS), which provides corporate jet and helicopter services, disclose it has fleet changes on the way as its Chairman and CEO, HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan toured the static park paying particular interest to the Bell 429 twin-engine helicopter on display.
“You will see changes in the Falcon Aviation fleet in the short term,” said FAS President A. J. Baker.
F&E Aerospace, which organises the show on behalf of MEBAA, was buoyant as bookings for the 2014 event were sealed and was left celebrating there widest-ever catchment visitor pull.
“This geographic visitor outreach demonstrates quite clearly the international status of this show,” said Alison Weller, Managing Director, F&E Aerospace. MEBA has transcended its regional show status and with a regulatory framework being pursued, fleet upgrades in the pipeline, an expanding FBO infrastructure and footfall and demand forecasts growing, the 2014 edition promises to be the happening place for business aviation.“
The new venue had proved a success, said Weller, with promising growth prospects for the show’s specialised luxury lifestyle and helicopter focus areas.
“Both these areas were trial-tested at MEBA 2012 and the response has been highly encouraging, certainly enough to say with some degree of certainty that they will expand for 2014.
“In general the response to the Dubai World Central setting was positive, particularly the ease of getting there from the new Dubai areas but for certain, participants in 2014 will find themselves very much at the heart of a business aviation hub as DWC’s fixed base operating tenants will be fully operational by then including Jetex, ExecuJet and Jet Aviation. It will be a very focused atmosphere in a market which is rebounding.”
Evidence of a bounce back came in the shape of contracted new business for Athens-headquartered GainJet Aviation which cited region wide interest and uptake from emerging African markets for the resurgence.
“This has been a very focused show with people coming to seriously do business, not just for fact-finding. You can tell how valuable we think it is by the fact that we’ve already signed up for 2014. Certainly there was a drop off in regional business immediately after the economic crisis but both air charter and aircraft management sectors are really back in business,” said Andrew Hallak, Marketing Director, GainJet Aviation.
And one of the region’s aviation leaders; Homaid Al Shemmari had words of wisdom for those considering engaging with the growing Gulf region. Consolidation within the region industry, he said, would ignite “great opportunities” and put the region at the centre of the global industry. The region, he added, would undergo game-changing events and a shift away from being mere business jet buyers.
The changes though, according to Al Shemmari, will not stall the regional market but create huge new investment areas.
“We now want exchange. We will buy 100 planes but we want something in return. We want investment in this region in terms of manufacturing, support and supply. And with the way the global scenario is changing, business aircraft manufacturers will have to focus on MENA and the Far East.”
With the rallying call in the industry’s ears, the next game-changing MEBA will be held at Dubai World Central from 8 to 10 December 2014.