Celebrating its 15th year of operations this week at MEBAA 2022, management specialist Empire Aviation Group (Static S4; EAG) has seen its charter business triple since 2019, it said on the eve of the biennial Middle East business aviation show.
“Our movements as a company today are up 200 percent over 2019,” EAG founder and managing director Paras Dhamecha told AIN. “If you look at the number of airplanes coming in and out of the region, I would think that, overall, movements have increased strongly.”
The VIP Terminal at Al Maktoum International Airport (OMDW) has been the focus of business aviation activity. “If you visualize where earlier aircraft were parked—basically two rows along the length of the ramp of the VIP Terminal area—today, we’ve got aircraft stacked about five rows deep on the sides. Obviously, there are substantial movements, but I’m not aware of the actual numbers.”
He said the company tracked the type and number of movements of aircraft under its management, but not the overall market. Several industry participants have said that the lack of clarity from the authorities on business aviation movements at Dubai’s airports hampers business planning.
Relocation specialists South Africa’s Henley & Partners have identified the UAE as the leading global destination for ultra-high-net-worth individuals and expected 4,000 millionaires to move there this year alone. “The UAE still has this huge concentration on becoming a global hub for business aviation,” Dhamecha said. “It’s going really well. Dubai looked like it was number two or three in terms of overall growth and movements during the pandemic.
“Obviously, the borders were open, so there was a lot more movement. The growth trajectory has been exponential. Support from the government continues to grow. The UAE remains a focus area for us. As wealth keeps coming into this region, opportunities continue to grow.”
EAG is also facing capacity issues. “We don’t have enough aircraft for the charter demand currently in the market,” he said. “Even with the number of people who are coming into Dubai now—operators that are transient and park here for business—there’s enough business going around so that people like us with a fleet of multiple airplanes are still struggling with availability.”
He admitted the firm had had to turn away business. “When I have a charter request from a direct client and we do not have availability within our fleet, we would then connect with our industry associates who operate aircraft for commercial charters, for alternatives,” he said. “Failing that, unfortunately, it’s a case of refusing business.”
Throughout the pandemic, many people started using private jets as a safe haven to travel, Dhamecha said. “This has continued; Dubai has been a fantastic hub for us,” he said. “The authorities have really managed the situation very well. Many people from all over the world have come to Dubai as a safe place to operate from. Given the wealth that comes with that, many people are here who are either users, owners, or potential clients for business.”
Turning to the fleet, he said EAG had a couple of aircraft in the pipeline and had added a private Boeing BBJ under management. Its fleet is around 20-strong, comprising Gulfstream, Bombardier, Embraer, Dassault, Boeing, and Hawker aircraft.
“Sales have been fairly good and we’ve been involved with three or four transactions already this year; a few more are coming through,” he said. “This is about average for us. The challenge on the sales side has been that there have not been enough good airplanes for sale and prices are very high. Buyers are waiting. Sellers are only thinking about selling because they can get good value from their airplanes.”
There have been several preowned transactions in the region. “New aircraft deliveries have been pushed out for anybody who wants an aircraft and has use for it now because they are in a situation where they feel comfortable in the current environment flying around,” he said. “These buyers want their aircraft now and don’t want to wait around for two, three, or four years for new aircraft.
“The OEMs have been absolutely fantastic. On deliveries, the earliest you can start talking about for the larger jets is probably 2024, 2025, or 2026. With the global wealth creation over the last few years and the number of buyers at the highest end, this means we have a lot of interest in aircraft like the Gulfstream G700 and the Bombardier Global 7500—these are some of the deliveries that are delayed.”
ExecuJet’s new FBO/MRO facility at Al Maktoum is expected to boost hangar supply when it opens early next year, with DC Aviation-Al Futtaim (DCAF) and Falcon Aviation the only outfits in a position to provide MRO space at the airport today. “That facility coming online will move services to the next level for the entire region, and the investment there is significant and will certainly work,” he said.
He sees plenty of FBO choices in Dubai with Jetex, Jet Aviation, DCAF, and Falcon all involved. “Falcon and DC Aviation have been operating for a while. The infrastructure is coming up and I’m very impressed with what they have done so far. The number of airplanes parked on the ramp and the movements that Dubai has been able to attract in general are unbelievable. It’s good for all of us here.”
The trend for management under a third-party air operator certificate (AOC) in the UAE has suited EAG’s business model. “In general, unless you’re with a professional AOC, there’s no private operations infrastructure here at all.”
EAG is participating in its first MEBAA Show for several years. Over the past decade, it has tended to instead choose the Dubai Airshow due to increased exposure. “We didn’t exhibit—as we typically do—at Dubai Airshow last year,” he said. “It works well for us because of the type of people who visit. Still, MEBAA is the perfect opportunity for us to meet all our customers, as well as industry friends, and see our associates.”