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Mardini turns up the gas...

Posted 2 October 2019 · Add Comment

Adel Mardini isn’t content with launching a new brand of luxury fixed-base operations. He wants to lose the term FBO, expand into aircraft sales and maintenance, and even new tech, as he explained to Dave Calderwood.

You could say it’s typical of Adel Mardini, president, CEO and founder of Jetex Flight Support, to issue a challenge to the rest of the business aviation industry to come up with a new name to replace the term ‘FBO’.
After all, Mardini is the man who disrupted the whole FBO business back in 2005 with the launch of Jetex, introducing it with a blaze of bright orange – still the company’s trademark – into a market traditionally more comfortable with dark, sedate colours.
But there’s method, as always, in Mardini's reasoning.
“The description of an FBO labels it as a gas station for aircraft,” said Mardini, just before this year’s European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE). “But, since its origin in 1918, it [the FBO] has progressed to becoming a relaxed and stress-free setting for busy travellers.
“Towards the end of WW1, civil aviation was virtually unregulated and consisted of mainly transient pilots, operating military surplus aircraft that landed wherever they could. This prompted pilots to set up temporary camps offering aircraft maintenance and flight training, which, by 1926 when aviation regulations were put in place, then became what we now know 100 years later as an FBO.
“As FBOs formerly provided only operational support, there was a gap in the experience that the upmarket clientele, who use private jets, were receiving. FBOs now offer an assortment of services that include gym facilities, games rooms, high-class food and beverage, concierge, movie theatres etc. And not forgetting a fleet of cars to transport travellers comfortably over the tarmac to their jet.
“FBOs are not just a gas station any more. They are places where you can spend time and have an experience, whether you’re a customer or flight crew.
“The hospitality industry didn’t shy from producing unique names for places to stay. Whether guests visit a hotel, motel, bed-and-breakfast or hostel, they know the standard to expect from each. Why can’t we do the same for our global FBOs?
“So, we are challenging our colleagues in the industry to change the name from FBO to something we can all agree on.”
Mardini understands the luxury experience FBOs can provide better than most. His flagship facility is at Dubai South and is an other-worldly experience for anyone arriving at Al Maktoum Airport, whether from landside or airside. The normal hustle and bustle of the airport is left behind as you enter a world of calm, quiet – a perfect temperature and with service levels off the scale. Not surprisingly, it has won acclaim from all quarters and just recently a Sapphire Pegasus Award for outstanding design.
Inspiration for Jetex’s FBOs comes from the hospitality industry, particularly hotels.
“When you go to any five-star hotel, you spend at least a few minutes within the lobby,” said Mardini. “This is what we want to achieve with our FBOs. We want passengers to spend a few minutes here before we drive them out to their aircraft.”
That few minutes can easily be extended with facilities such as a full-scale conference room, showers and rest rooms, duty-free shopping, lounges with huge, high-definition screens and concierge support for ongoing travel or requests. Not to mention the Rolls-Royce cars to ferry you across the apron to your waiting jet.
This model has proven popular, with Jetex now operating at 56 locations in 26 countries around the world. The latest is at Kansai International Airport, its third location in Japan, and location for the G20 Summit meeting of global leaders.
“We have been operating in Narita and Haneda Airports since 2015 and believe Kansai to be a strategic addition based on the impressive 31.5% growth over the last 18 months,” said Mardini.
Jetex now has more than 400 employees worldwide and three operational hubs. As well as the main HQ in Dubai, there’s also a centre in Miami for the Americas, both north and south, and in Beijing for China. Where Jetex doesn’t have an FBO, it has affiliates and agents to arrange flight support for those locations.
You might think that running a still-growing global network of FBOs (we’re using that term because a new one hasn’t been selected yet) might be enough for Mardini, but no. At last December’s Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA) show, Jetex and Hondajet announced an agreement for Jetex to become the Middle East’s exclusive dealer for the innovative aircraft.
And, just in time for EBACE, Jetex signed an agreement to establish a new line maintenance facility in Dubai for Bombardier aircraft. It will initially offer unscheduled maintenance services but will build towards scheduled maintenance operations in the coming months.
The technical engineers supporting the line station are certified for all Challenger series and Global series business jets, including Bombardier’s flagship Global 7500 aircraft.
“It’s a significant milestone for Jetex,” admitted Mardini. “The agreement came after a year of work with Bombardier. This, and the Hondajet agreement, put us at a different level in the industry.”
Quite a few eyebrows were raised at the Hondajet agreement. After all, Middle East customers tend to like large-cabin, long-range jets such as Global, Gulfstream and Dassault Falcon aircraft. But, again, perhaps typically of the man, Mardini sees opportunities.
“Hondajet is a good product for businessmen in the region who want to fly their own jet from, say, Dubai to Riyadh, or Jeddah to Dubai,” said Mardini.
Clearly, the $5million six-seat Hondajet has much lower operating costs than a large jet, with five living zones and galley good enough to produce five-star meals. There’s also the more discreet ramp presence of the Hondajet and the kudos from having an aircraft that’s just a bit different.
Whatever, Mardini’s faith seems to be paying off with six interested buyers already.
Perhaps, more extraordinary, is Jetex’s involvement with US start-up Wright Electric, which is proposing all-electric short-haul aircraft. Jetex’s interest is in private aviation, rather than competing with low-cost carriers such as EasyJet, but both are investing in the production of a Wright Electric aircraft.
With an estimated range of 540km (335 miles), a passenger could fly from Jetex FBOs in Dubai to Muscat or Malaga to Casablanca on a single charge. That’s some way off yet but, in the meantime, Jetex will implement the charging infrastructure and full support for electric jets throughout its global FBO network, starting in Dubai.
“We are constantly building a new reality in the aviation industry. First, by setting a high standard of service and now by setting a new standard for innovation,” said Mardini. “We envision having the aircraft and infrastructure at all of our FBOs throughout our global network.”
Jeffrey Engler, CEO and founder of Wright Electric, summed up Jetex well. “We knew right away Jetex was the kind of company we wanted to work with,” he said. “They have an innovative mindset and don’t like to settle for the status quo. They are as excited about new technology as we are.”
Despite the constant global expansion, moves into new fields of operation and involvement with new tech, Mardini remains firmly rooted in the Middle East. He sees it as a worthwhile market – mainly Saudi Arabia and the UAE – though there is activity elsewhere, such as Oman, which has recently opened a new airport.
The return of the oil price to around $80 a barrel has helped bring stability to the market, he notes, as have initiatives taken last year by the Executive Council of Dubai to scrap 19 fees related to aviation and to halve municipal taxes. The council is chaired by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, who said that Dubai is a global hub for the industry and its hard-won position in this sector needed to be strengthened.
“The impact of these economic reforms is very positive and will stimulate business volumes,” said Mardini. “We owe it to Dubai for their facilities and support from officials from the government and civil aviation authority.”
The business aviation industry owes a lot of Mardini and his Jetex creation, too, for its fresh and dynamic way of doing business.

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