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Comlux expands into the Middle East

Fly Comlux- a part of the Switzerland-based Comlux Aviation Group- has rapidly become one of the world leaders in long range corporate jet management and charter operations. It is also one of the fastest expanding with a very young fleet of aircraft. To keep pace with world hot-spots of demand Comlux is in the process of opening a new operations center and aircraft base at Manama- Bahrain.

Comlux set up a commercial sales arm in Manama just over two years ago. Such is the demand that it bases three widebody jets there- complete with crews and operations staff. This Bahrain operation is now known as Comlux Middle East and is a joint venture between the Comlux Aviation Group and local partner Saudi Private Aviation (SPA)- a strategic partner of Saudi Arabia Airlines.

The joint venture effectively brings together two of the leading charter operators in the Middle East and Europe- and the new center offers excellent positioning to nearby Saudi Arabia.

Comlux operates regular VIP flights from the Middle East and will make its fleet available to clients of SPA- while SPA’s charter fleet of Falcon 7X and Hawker 400XP aircraft complements the larger VIP aircraft of the Comlux fleet.

Richard Gaona- President and CEO of the Comlux Aviation Group- told BizJet Advisor that the company originally opened its commercial office in Bahrain to be closer to its clients. “A lot of activity is coming from the Middle East so we decided we should actually position aircraft there to save costs.

“The expanded office will have a staff of about 20-25 people initially- with another 30-40 flight crew members also to be based there. Two Airbus ACJ319s and a Boeing 767 (in 60-seat configuration) are already based there. This is keeping us very busy-” Gaona outlined- adding that another brand new Airbus ACJ319 is to be delivered there during May- straight from Comlux America’s completions center in the U.S.

Variety of Users
These aircraft are largely operating from the Middle East to Europe - with London- Paris- Nice and Geneva the most popular destinations.

“We are also chartering the Boeing 767 executive aircraft to several Heads of State in Africa- with most flights being non-stop to the U.S. on related United Nations meetings in New York.” (The 767 can fly non-stop for 14 hours- and at the time of writing was in Seoul- South Korea having transported a Head of State delegation there.

“We also fly a lot of clients from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia-” said Gaona. This means relatively short positioning flights from Bahrain to either Jeddah or Riyadh before flying onto Europe. “Even if the flight is then going onto the U.S.- clients usually make a one or two day stop-over before heading for New York- Washington- etc.”

Comlux also has four other aircraft operations centers- which include Air Operator Certificates in Switzerland- Malta- Kazakhstan and Aruba. “Mainly our market is the Middle East- Eastern Europe and Russia- which explains why we have an Airbus ACJ318 and an ACJ319 based in Moscow-” Gaona added. “We also operate seven Bombardier Global and five Bombardier Challenger models that are dispatched all over the world.”

Of the current in-service fleet of 21 aircraft- approximately 25% are fully private aircraft managed by Comlux and not available for charter. The remaining 75%- however- are all available for charter. While it is always difficult to know the split between business and leisure bookings- Gaona estimates that leisure forms around 20-25% of the charter bookings and normally takes place around Christmas- or just before or after Ramadan. “Most of the time flights are business routings for delegations or business missions-” he explained.

Fleet Expansion
In addition to its current fleet of aircraft- the company has an impressive backlog of aircraft orders that includes an Airbus ACJ321- an Embraer Legacy 650- two Bombardier Global 6000s and two Global 7000s. The yet-to-fly Global 7000 is scheduled to enter service in 2016 and will have the capability to fly London-Singapore- New York-Dubai or Beijing-Washington non-stop.

Comlux is also the launch customer for the Sukhoi Business Jet (SBJ) - the VIP version of the in-service Sukhoi Superjet 100 (regional jet airliner) - and holds two firm orders and two optional delivery positions for that aircraft. Before entry into service- the VIP cabin will be designed and outfitted by Comlux America in Indianapolis U.S. (Comlux America has also been appointed as the first approved SBJ completion center). The delivery of the first SBJ to Indianapolis is scheduled for the end of 2015.

Comlux America’s new state-of-the-art 64-500 sq ft hangar (scheduled to be completed by the second quarter of 2012) will open in early September. “We will be able to handle the completions of three to four aircraft per year- up to Airbus ACJ321 or BBJ3 size”- said Gaona. “At the moment we have a BBJ3- a Boeing 757 in executive configuration- and an ACJ319 in our existing Comlux America completions hangar- with a brand new BBJ due to arrive imminently- and another BBJ and an ACJ321 already booked in for next year.

“We started operations in America in October 2008 with 15 people- and today we employ 350. This will be further expanded after the new facility comes on-line. Most importantly we have a very strong team there.”

When BizJet Advisor asked what his most popular aircraft types were- Gaona revealed “The Boeing 767 has had a successful start- which is very important for us. In addition our ACJ320 is one of only three VVIP-equipped A320 aircraft in the world and can fly nine hours non-stop. It can also carry up to 100 large suitcases making it ideal for the Middle East region. Our Global Express aircraft are also doing a very good job between Russia- Europe and the U.S.”

As for his market outlook- Gaona observes that in Europe the costs are very high for customers- who are generally flying less and doing so in smaller aircraft. “Nevertheless-” he said- “business is still good for us as we have some smaller aircraft in the fleet too.” His major worry though is the increasing price of fuel: “It’s a really high cost for an airline like us- and we can’t really transfer the extra fuel costs onto customers.”

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