Interview: Vito Gomes, ASM
Vito Gomes from Aviation Services Management on why authorities in the Middle East need to take a tougher stance with corporate jet operators.
How long have you been involved in the aviation industry?
I've been in the industry since the early 1980s when it was still in its infancy in the Middle East. My career began with a ground handling company in Abu Dhabi, where I explored the various facets of the sector. After spending more than 10 years at the company, I was offered the chance to set up a cargo airline with a view to making it a globally-recognised operation. I then went on to set up my own company Aviation Services Management.
Why decide to branch out on your own and set up a company?
The 9/11 catastrophe gave rise to a sudden, tremendous increase in volume of corporate jets in the Middle East. Affluent businessmen, who could afford the luxury, began chartering an aircraft to suit their needs and avoid lengthy security procedures, inconvenient schedules and delays, which they experienced with scheduled commercial operators.
As a result, the need for services providers that catered for private companies had grown in significance. However, the emergence of operators and service providers led to several grey areas and questions about the regulatory standards.
For example, every operator approved by Dubai's General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) must first show they are financially stable for at least six months. Such operators can pay agencies for rendered services, such as fuel, navigation, aircraft maintenance, employee salaries and ground handling.
What would happen if carriers with limited financial resources were approved by the GCAA?
There is a dire need for the issue to be addressed. The primary reason is to ensure A6 registration aircrafts aren't grounded in foreign countries when expenses haven't been paid for certain services. Similarly, there are numerous foreign-registered aircraft, based and operating out of UAE, for passenger and cargo. These operators also face the same sustainability crisis, which needs to be addressed by the concerned authorities.
As there is a lack of expertise in aviation-related disputes, the GCAA should address such issues when required. To improve the current crisis, the GCAA and Civil Aviation Authority from every emirate should establish a committee to oversee this.
What other issues should the GCAA focus on?
It should deal with legal contracts between the operator and the hiring company (charter and charterer). The GCAA should also handle standard procedure for actions against a defaulting company that's failed to pay its dues; resolve disputes between operators and hiring companies; and deal with service providers that are willing to cater for operators that have been rejected by other companies for financial irregularities.
The GCAA could also benefit from overseeing these issues. It would reduce time spent auditing an operator if a pre-audit agency was appointed to verify documents' authenticity and check the books, well before a final audit for operator approval was conducted.
Are there any other problems within the industry that need addressing?
There are many operators in the region these days that manage aircraft for private and commercial use. This is another tricky situation, which must be seriously looked into. For example, an owner could withdraw the aircraft from a particular operator due to management problems and then transfer it to a rival.
At this stage, or perhaps before transferring the aircraft with the same or brand new registration, the GCAA must ensure the previous operator has settled all outstanding payments to agencies. This should be carried out before the final transfer rights are passed on to another operator. Elsewhere, there is an acute shortage of experienced flight dispatchers in the region, among other personnel shortages.
It has become a growing trend for fresh, young graduates with aspirations to enter the aviation industry to enroll themselves on short-term courses. These could be flight dispatch certification programmes, issued by concerned training centres and counter-approved by the GCAA.
I have interviewed many such candidates and found them to have little or no knowledge regarding route planning or the wider subject. This is yet another questionable topic to be debated by the GCAA, especially because it involves safety and security for passengers and cargo.
Vito Gomes is managing director of ASM, an aviation services provider.