Ask the expert: Jonathan Howells
Question: How does the Middle East's business aviation industry compare with other regions?
Expert: Jonathan Howells
Universal Weather and Aviation Inc's regional director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
The Middle East has been a key centre for business aviation for more than 40 years. However, in recent years record oil prices and a diversification of regional economies have served as a catalyst for a business aviation boom in the region.
During the past decade, Middle Eastern governments have invested billions of dollars in aviation infrastructure projects. The results are evident in the diversification and increased number of people using business aviation services in the Middle East.
The market has changed in the past few years. While worldwide corporate traffic operating to and from the Middle East continues to grow, particularly in Saudi Arabia, there is an even larger growth in regionally-based aircraft operating intra-region.
This growth is in addition to general aircraft usage among heads-of-state and royalty. As business aviation in the region has grown, we've seen operators demand better quality services from providers.
Business aviation growth in the Middle East isn't new, so operators are, in some ways, more sophisticated and have higher demands than those in regions where the industry is just beginning to blossom.
Universal has tried to create tools that fit the modern Middle East business aviation operator's needs. For example, operators in the region are particularly interested in self-help and online tools, such as Web-based UVflightplanner.comsm, UVTripPlannersm trip reference tool, online fuel quotes via UVairÃ‚Â® and FlightPakÃ‚Â® scheduling software.
Another factor behind the region's aviation industry boom is the emergence of professional service providers. The ease of doing business in the Middle East has also helped.
Many locations, such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are encouraging new business aviation service providers to establish operations in the respective emirates. Both are prospering due to pro-business working conditions and diversified economies.
Dubai's thriving 'new' economy is based on trade, manufacturing, finance, IT, and tourism. Dubai has become the financial capital of the region and has an excellent infrastructure, which has lured numerous multinational corporations. This influx of new businesses and revenue has led to increased reliance on business aviation.
Although more advanced than in some developing nations, Middle East business aviation is still rapidly evolving and developing like more established regions, such as the US and Europe, once did.
Most airports in the region are nationally run, and despite the billions of dollars poured into infrastructure in some locations, continued liberalisation is needed for operators to receive the level of service they have come to expect.
While no longer the norm, it can still be challenging at times to develop new facilities as well as comply with all the procedures and processes in place for general aviation in the Middle East.
However, although local bureaucracy in the region can still be time consuming, business aviation in most Middle East locations has outstanding local support.
The Middle East's rapid economic growth and increasing aircraft sales will ensure that this region becomes more a 'driver' than 'passenger' in the business aviation world. Outside the US, the Middle East culture, more than any other, perhaps embraces the business jet as a valued tool for conducting business.
While, traditionally, the region has been a consumer of larger, longer range aircraft, with the recent surge in intra-region travel, the area poised to grow significantly is the smaller shorter-range aircraft. This includes very light jets, which can really reduce travel times point-to-point over a relatively short range.
One thing that will continue increasing is demand for cost effective services. Enabling this will be providers in the region that offer new equipment and facilities.
If the current trend is any indicator, Middle East operators' desire to work with global providers will only increase as business aviation evolves from a luxury service to business tool.