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Private - at a price

Posted 11 December 2018 · Add Comment

Private aircraft ownership comes with its own set of considerations, all focused on maintaining airworthiness through planned and unplanned events. Chuck Grieve spoke to leading Middle East maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operators for their insights.

The Middle East MRO market for business aircraft is recovering from a “significant” drop-off in demand seen at the end of 2017, mainly from the Saudi Arabian-installed base but also from visiting aircraft.
Nick Weber, maintenance director of ExecuJet Middle East in Dubai, said the tempo is “still not the same” year-on-year from 2017, when the market experienced a “significant uptick” from 2016.
“Markets are very price-sensitive,” he said. “At the moment, cost is definitely the driver for MRO decisions.
“The Middle East installed base gets a lot of offers from Europe and, to a certain extent, from Asia. We have to counter this with better services within the region, tailored offerings depending on fleet size, and ensuring our pricing is competitive.”
Competition is also increasing from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) targeting the aftermarket for maintenance and servicing, he added. “This is putting pressure on authorised service facilities like ourselves. The OEM can offer preferential pricing on parts, warranty, supplemental type certificates (STCs), avionics upgrades – areas where we find it a lot more difficult to compete.”
European operators continue to use regional MROs, such as ExecuJet, for scheduled maintenance when their aircraft are in-region. “We still have to be very mindful of pricing,” said Weber, “otherwise the option of repositioning the aircraft back to Europe enters the picture”.
As Gama Aviation’s Oliver Hewson sees it, the major MRO challenge for business aircraft owners and operators in the region is the lack of infrastructure dedicated to business jets at large, popular, international airports.
Hewson, the company’s Middle East commercial manager, said Gama recognised an opportunity in that situation. “While other maintenance organisations have engineers committed to scheduled base inputs, with tight deadlines, we set up our aircraft on the ground (AOG) support service with a mobile unit of line engineers.”
Equipped with airside passes and appropriate visas for airports in the GCC region, the Gama team can mobilise from its line station at Sharjah International at short notice, weekends and holidays included, to rescue clients. Last year alone they handled AOG support in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Lebanon.
“Our small regional team of engineers quickly earned a stellar reputation for AOG support in the Middle East and Africa, and is now supporting urgent defect rectification on a monthly basis, rescuing aircraft and their passengers from being stuck and grounded down route,” said Hewson.
“Perhaps the most memorable mission we had this year was to dispatch an engineer from the UAE to Kuwait within a matter of hours in order to fix a lavatory on a charter aircraft before they flew a very discerning VIP to Europe. Needless to say, the passenger and operator were very grateful for the fast response."
ExecuJet’s Weber said among the company’s business jet customers, who tend to be single-aircraft owners, there’s been an increase in the number of newer long-range wide-bodies, such as Global Express and Gulfstream models.
One quandary facing owners is balancing the lower cost of buying an older model aircraft with the higher cost of its maintenance.
Not understanding the market is a pitfall, especially for first-time owners, said Weber. Many “seem to be taken by surprise” at the cost of maintaining an aircraft through mandatory light and heavy checks, such as the 96-month inspection.
This can be problematic for an MRO if an owner thinks he’s being taken advantage of.
“We see owners approaching their aircraft MRO requirements as they would the servicing of a motor vehicle, where they may decide to skip one or delay it until a more convenient time. They don’t understand that, with an aircraft, you have to comply with all regulations and STCs.”
But, he added, the business aircraft industry in the Middle East has matured since ExecuJet opened its doors as an MRO in 2006, as have the management companies. “It’s an educational process,” he said. “Fewer owners now will let their multi-million-dollar aircraft stand outside at the mercy of the heat and climatic conditions we experience in the Gulf.”
Utilisation of business aircraft in the Middle East fleet tends to be seasonal, with activity peaking in the cooler winter months when there are more conferences and events to draw people to Europe and North America. The summer lull is compounded by a tendency of some owners to relocate themselves and their aircraft in Europe and Asia over that period.
 

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