Middle East looks long-term


Corporate Jet Investor’s Dubai Conference took place this week at a time of rapid change.

It is astonishing how quickly the Middle East business aviation market has changed in just 12 months. At last year’s CJI Dubai Conference no one expected a diplomatic crisis over Qatar to start within a few months or predicted the anti-corruption crackdown in Saudi Arabia.

It was with these changes in mind that the operators’ panel — comprised of representatives from DC Aviation Al-Futtaim, ExecuJet and Gama Aviation — was perhaps understandably cautious about the next few months, the immediate future. All three executives agreed that 2017 had been tough and that 2018 was unlikely to see massive growth. This, too, was the view from the conference’s more-than 200 delegates. Just 43% of them were optimistic about Middle Eastern business aviation in 2018.

Nonetheless, the overall mood was far from depressed.

Companies that have set up in the region are in it for the long-term. And they are convinced there is a lot of growth to come. Sessions looking at the region’s longer-term prospects were more upbeat. The Middle East is already a key market for Airbus Corporate Jets and Boeing Business Jets, and the future looks even brighter with 92% of attendees believing that there are opportunities for more VVIP aircraft.

Holger Ostheimer, from DC Aviation Al-Futtaim, used data to argue why the region is set to grow. Those in the final session, covering the future for the region – featuring Steffen Fries, from fast-growing European operator MHS Aviation; Tariq Bin Ghalaita from Dubai South Airport; Adel Mardini from trip-planning and FBO company Jetex; and Captain Raman Oberoi, from local operator Falcon Aviation – were far more bullish than their counterparts on the first panel. Some 70% of attendees are optimistic or very optimistic about the next 10 years.

There is a consensus that Saudi Arabia – which is introducing new regulations — could emerge as a much-stronger market in 2019. UAE operators are also positive about the Dubai World Expo in 2020. “You should have asked us about the next 10 years, not the next 12 months,” said one of the first panelists. “In the long-term, we are all bullish.”

Volatility can also work both ways. The region had to cope with a number of negative shocks in 2017. Maybe there will be more than just a couple of positive surprises in 2018.

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