While the Middle East represents only about 5 percent of general aviation worldwide, the region is poised for growth given its size, the different businesses that exist, and the fact that companies typically have dealings in several countries in the region and increasingly have to connect to Europe, the U.S., and Asia. That’s according to Dassault Aviation international sales director Renaud Cloâtre, who is based in Dubai.
“Growth potential is enormous because the region is underequipped,” Cloâtre said. “If you look at general aviation’s structure in Europe or the U.S., there’s clear growth potential in the Mideast. We are in an economy where the energy market is actually changing relations between Europe, the U.S., and the Middle East. The value of oil is increasingly recognized. Oil prices are increasingly relevant, underlining oil’s true value. It’s needed. There is also a requirement to use it wisely and not burn too much.
“Regional transition, as you’ve seen in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as in other countries, is taking place. The UAE has changed over the past 10 years. Change has taken place all over the region. When you move towards change, you need the tools for it, and business jets are one of them.”
He said the Falcon 7X—of which Dassault sold six to Saudia Private Aviation—has been a tremendous success. “The 7X and 8X are fantastic aircraft, going all the way from here to continents. People in Saudi Arabia love three-engine aircraft. They love the stability of fly-by-wire. The Saudi market is very complex, in terms of actors and operators. It’s a big country, a big domestic market; it’s distance they need.
“Again, if you look at all the missions general aviation can perform—transporting people, goods and materials, or medical evacuation—many things are required in Saudi Arabia. Given the Vision 2030 plan and infrastructure changes in the kingdom, it will be a completely different proposition in years to come. That will give us big development opportunities.”
Setting aside the UAE and Saudi Arabia, he also sees opportunities elsewhere in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). “It’s developing and changing, and not just because oil provides the backbone,” Cloâtre said. “These countries are evolving. Regional transformation plans offer opportunities everywhere. I’ve also worked in Egypt, which has plenty of wealthy companies. Have you been to Cairo lately? New Cairo and the administrative capital are amazing.”
He said his work in the Middle East is a spread. “Let’s say we have activity in all these countries because we can actually respond to different missions in different countries—it’s government flights, private flights, or special missions. It’s an entire portfolio. You’ve got the GCC and up to Pakistan. Then it’s from Turkey to Egypt. Israel is not my territory. There’s always a need, somewhere,” he said.
Turkey has also proved to be an excellent market for Dassault. “Istanbul is a very good market,” he said. “We have a strong presence in Turkey. The Falcon 6X had a very good reception. The 6X has significant experience in Turkey with long-time owners, who have also availed themselves of the wider Falcon portfolio.”
Face to Face
Cloâtre said the pandemic had been a period of ups and downs, with the regional economy fluctuating.
“Covid showed that you cannot just rely on your computer and say: ‘Okay, I’ve got Zoom, I’ve got Skype, I’ve got whatever, and I can do my business from home,’” he said. “That’s not really the case. You have to be on-site talking about business. You have to be able to check what’s going on at your facilities on the other side of the world; you have to deal with your client and you have to interact. Covid showed that private aviation is a very strong tool, not only for business. We’ve seen the sanitary measures taken by Dassault in France and in Europe. Although unseen, these are an important part of aviation.”
He underlined the ability of the Falcon 8X, which is on static display this week at MEBAA 2022 (Static Display A21), to fly from New York or Washington direct to Abu Dhab. The 10X, officially due for delivery in late 2025, will be an even better option. “On the way back, when the headwinds get stronger, you need the 7,500-nautical-mile range of the 10X, if you want to do it nonstop,” he said. “Otherwise, you make a 30-minute fuel and customs stop in Shannon, and you can fly fast between the stops.”
Dassault has noted that its large-cabin models such as the 6,450-nm Falcon 8X comprise a third of the 75 Falcons in the region. That fleet is expected to grow once the Falcon 6X and 10X reach the market in coming years.
The Falcon 6X is due to enter service in mid-2023. “You have a mix of demand, for which the 6X is ideal,” he said. “It can perform a variety of missions, from long-range to short-range, but the key is that it takes you to your destination. Given generations of our clients, what’s more important today, apart from avoiding distress, is the journey from door to door. In a single day, you can, for example, have meetings in three cities. Most importantly, the Falcon offers valuable flexibility.”
Dassault has received strong interest, including a “significant number of orders” from the Middle East for the 6X. Several deliveries are lined up to the region shortly after the wide-cabin model enters service, the French airframer said, adding the 6X is in the final stages of flight testing.
As its fleet continues to grow, Dassault Aviation is expanding its service capabilities in the region. In 2019, Dassault acquired the worldwide maintenance activities of Luxaviation subsidiary ExecuJet, which plans to open a 15,000-sq-m (163,000-sq-ft) FBO-MRO at Dubai Al Maktoum International Airport (OMDW) early next year.
Serving operators in the Gulf region, the facility at OMDW will be able to accommodate between 18 and 24 aircraft simultaneously and will be qualified to handle a full range of MRO activities, from line maintenance to major overhauls.
ExecuJet will offer services for other OEM aircraft in addition to Falcons, including both regionally-based and in-transit aircraft. To serve as ExecuJet’s regional headquarters, the complex is replacing ExecuJet’s base maintenance at Dubai International Airport (OMDB). However, the OMDB location will continue to provide AOG services.
“We have a strong investment in OMDW with our three hangars,” he said. “This investment aims to bring us closer to our clients in terms of maintenance; clients can go to Dassault Dubai as easily as to Paris Dassault Falcon Service. The development of OMDW—the initial OMDW master plan—is gradually bearing fruit. There’s certainly a transition from OMDB to OMDW. I think the government has phased it well. It’s a transition which I welcome.”
Dassault also has a spare parts distribution center in Dubai and added an engineering office in Cairo.