It’s well known that flying internationally brings its own trip planning challenges. But what are the common difficulties faced within the Middle East, and how does professional trip support help? George Kinj of Fly Aviation speaks to AvBuyer’s Matt Harris…
According to WingX Advance, during the first seven months of 2019, flying activity from Europe into the Middle East was up 1.5% Year-over-Year compared to the same period in 2018. There was a total 838 departures from Europe into the Middle East between January and July 2019.
Flights between Larnaca International Airport, Cyprus and Ben Gurion Airport, Israel accounted for 135 flights in the period, while the next busiest route between Europe and the Middle East was between Vnukovo (Moscow) and Al Maktoum International Airport, Dubai.
In terms of model types, Bombardier and Gulfstream jets were the busiest (although activity was ultimately down for these platforms), while Embraer model activity was up.
“While it greatly varies on the season and market growth in different regions, we have recently seen an influx of trip support requests coming from China,” George Kinj, founder, Fly Aviation, observes. “We’ve also seen a steady increase in requests from India, with the CIS countries also prominent, followed by European and North American flights.
“Trip support in the Middle East has become more of a necessity to operate in the region and we’ve seen significant growth in demand for our services each year as a result,” he adds.
Spending the past three decades in the aviation services industry, Kinj has made it his mission to bring more transparency having observed several ‘grey’ areas within the sector. In 2008 he established Fly Aviation.
“The company was built on the ideals of transparency, straight forward information and customer centricity,” he explains. “It’s important to provide service that doesn’t make aircraft operators jump through hoops and hurdles to get from Point A to Point B.”
These core values have apparently struck a chord with operators, and more than a decade later Fly Aviation is one of the most trusted aviation service providers within the Middle East.
George Kinj, Fly Aviation
Why Use Trip Support in the Middle East?
But why is it important for international operators travelling into the Middle East to use an aviation service provider at all? Fundamentally, Kinj notes, international operators can find it challenging to navigate the whole process of flying into the Middle East.
“This is because of the different processes they’re not accustomed to – such as additional paperwork, pre-formatted applications and security requirements,” he explains. “And occasionally the need arises for a local entity in a particular Middle Eastern country to vouch for the passengers.
“There’s a certain level of diplomacy involved when flying into the Middle East and having the right connections that speak the local dialect, and knowing the ins and out of the country helps enormously, particularly when faced with circumstances that could compromise your flight and schedule.”
International operators are often caught off guard on how hard it is to get a hold of a civil aviation office in the Middle East, Kinj remarks. “Apart from a few exceptional civil aviation offices, most are difficult to reach, can be unresponsive, and may not detail what is missing from a permission application that would prevent it from going through.
“Over the years, we’ve received countless short notice request, from operators who submitted applications weeks in advance but received no response, regardless of how many follow-ups they attempted.
“Knowing the right person in that office, and the relationship built over the years is often what is required to get your permission application, move forward and get it approved.”
Are all Trip Support Providers Made Equal?
Of course, growing demand for trip support in the region brings an increase in competition within the sector. But are all trip support providers made equal? If not, what should an operator be careful of when selecting the best trip support provider to meet their Middle East travel needs?
“With the increased competition and newcomers popping up, sales on trip support charges and fees have spread like wildfire, and most trip support companies – even the largest players – have dropped their charges and fees,” Kinj notes.
“While many foreign aircraft operators have taken advantage, there can be a failure to recognize that the trade-off for cheaper trip support is a compromise in the service quality, a lack of professional or experienced staff, and ultimately delayed flights.
“It’s essential for an international operator seeking trip support within the region to ask lots of questions regarding what they’re getting for their money.”
How Developed are Middle East Airports?
Operators need to consider the cost-savings a well-connected trip support company can provide beyond the service charge. “Usually, an international aircraft operator will not have the same leverage on a Middle Eastern airport that a well-connected trip support provider does, due to the sheer amount of flights a trip support provider brings to a Middle Eastern airport.
“As an example,” Kinj explains, “we coordinate well over one hundred flights per year and have established discounted handling rates, the most fuel-efficient routes and have sourced the most cost-effective suppliers in the area.”
Offering the example of an FBO handling invoice Kinj once saw that was billed directly to a foreign aircraft operator, he notes, “Compared to another that was billed to us for the same aircraft type and flight, our invoice included a 10% discount which we were able to pass on to our customer.”
Speaking of Middle East handling facilities, though it seemed there were several ambitious airport development projects for Business Aviation just a few years ago, the market has cooled since then. Have the development projects been similarly impacted?
“The infrastructure development boom for aviation in the Middle East still has a lot of fire in its core,” Kinj assures.
“That’s why most of the region’s aviation infrastructure is seen as being major hubs, and crucial arteries for global trade and transportation. But it did need to slow down a little to find the right balance between commercial growth and sustainability,” he adds.
Beyond the main hubs in the Middle East, great strides have been made to provide technological advancements in infrastructure, connectivity, comfort and security for both aircraft and passengers at most airports in the region. “Foreign aircraft operators can expect the same level or perhaps even better service at these airports.
“But there are still airports that are lacking and will be a challenge if you are a foreign aircraft operator,” he warns, highlighting another reason for operators to invest in the services of an established trip support provider.
“Before flying into less established airports it would be best to get a reliable link at that airport for your flight who can: 1) make sure the airport has the essential equipment you might need on the ground; 2) ensure fuel is available; and 3) make sure clearances have been applied for, and granted, well in advance of your flight,” Kinj offers.
How Could Middle East Flying Get Easier?
Ultimately, Kinj suggests, international operators will be delighted to see the region’s new airport facilities that go toe-to-toe with the world’s best. And despite what’s broadcast in many sections of the mainstream media, the people are among the most welcoming you could meet. That stems from the Middle East’s rich culture and heritage of brotherhood and comradery.
“But be warned,” Kinj says, “Middle Eastern civil aviation offices in recent years have been more focussed on security and there are now a lot more requirements before a flight is granted permission.
This can be overwhelming and is a frequent cause of delays for most flights into the region.
Looking to the solution, he adds, “It’s promising that there are technological movements in the Middle East to have full automation for granting permissions and clearances, making it easier to fly here,” Kinj reveals. “Automation is on its way, but it is mostly in its infancy.
“This technological movement has been widely accepted in Middle Eastern aviation, but it’s being implemented cautiously while concerns over compromised security and national risk are addressed.”
More information from www.flyaviation.aero