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In just 28 years- Gama Aviation has progressed from a U.K. company operating a single piston-powered Beech Baron to handling a managed aircraft fleet of around 80 business jets and helicopters on three continents - the Middle East included.

Mike Vines   |   1st November 2011
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From Sharjah (and far beyond) with love

In just 28 years- Gama Aviation has progressed from a U.K. company operating a single piston-powered Beech Baron to handling a managed aircraft fleet of around 80 business jets and helicopters on three continents - the Middle East included.

The deal that really launched Gama Aviation into the intercontinental league started with its buyout of PrivatAir’s U.S. managed/charter aircraft operation in April 2008. Almost at the same time- Gama’s Board started planning to be a major Business Aviation provider in the Middle East. Rather than trying to operate out of the already-busy Dubai International Airport- however- the company gained exclusive Business Aviation rights at Sharjah International Airport.

Dave Edwards- Managing Director of Gama Aviation in the Middle East points out that driving in to downtown Dubai from Sharjah is often quicker than from Dubai’s own International Airport. He believes that Sharjah will be even better positioned when business jet passengers start arriving at Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport at Jebel Ali (even further out) from next year. Sharjah is also better positioned for the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) than Jebel Ali- Edwards claims.

“We are fairly confident that Sharjah will be like Farnborough Airport is to London Heathrow. We’re hoping we’ve stolen a march on our competitors.”

The Sharjah operation started in 2009 and within just eight months gained its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Air Operators Certificate (AOC). “We started flying charter operations as soon as we got our GCC AOC in February 2010-” Edwards recalled.

Within Gama’s all-managed Middle Eastern fleet is a Challenger 604- Global Express XRS- a Challenger 850- a Legacy 600 and an Airbus A318 Elite. The company currently operates out of an existing facility capable of holding a Challenger-sized aircraft- and from its Dubai International Airport office. The plan is to build a 12-000 square meter hangar and Fixed Base Operation (FBO) at Sharjah.

“We’re about to select the winning design-” Edwards revealed (by the Dubai Air Show he expected to be able to announce more). The planned FBO will be separate but adjacent to the new hangar and well away from the main airport passenger terminal. “Once built- it will give us a permanent home for the rest of our businesses all under one roof.”

He added that customer reaction to Sharjah has been favorable. “On a good day I can do DIFC to Sharjah Airport in about 21 minutes. There is a six lane desert road almost directly to the airport.”

Edwards believes the UAE is a good regional home for the company and admits Gama has plans to extend its presence within the Middle East - but he wasn’t prepared to announce his company’s next location at the time of print. All Edwards would say was- “We have plans for regional expansion in the Middle East.”

Far East Ambition
Edwards also believes Gama needs to get into the Far East- and its approach to opening at Hong Kong International Airport next year will follow the same company philosophy of cautious growth. “It’s the same as we’re doing in Sharjah; we start with a local Aircraft Operator’s Certificate (AOC) and introduce aircraft management and charter - then we move into Part 145 maintenance.

“We were probably one of the last Business Aviation companies to get into the Middle East- but with Hong Kong we’re trying to get ahead of other companies if we can. The first thing we did was link up with Asia Miles – the Cathay Pacific and Dragonair frequent-flyer rewards program [4.1 million members worldwide]. This gives us a lot of exposure to Cathay and Dragonair passengers around the world. Asia Miles members with onward destinations that are not serviced by Asia Miles’ partner airlines can arrange a connecting sector by business jet with Gama.

“Towards the beginning of next year we’ll start by offering aircraft management- then with our Hong Kong AOC application in January we can hopefully concentrate on gaining our Part 145 maintenance authorization. We are conscious that there are space restrictions at Hong Kong - particularly for Part 145 operations. But like everywhere else that we’ve launched our policy- we will look for other opportunities.”

Gama has been talking to a number of companies- but it remains unclear whether it will look for a local partner alliance or go it alone.

Whilst Asia will become Gama’s key focus for 2012- in the last 12 months the company has been investing in improving its capabilities and structures in the U.S. It has built up its Part 145/EASA repair station capabilities and market opportunities at bases at Stratford- Connecticut; Teterboro- New Jersey; and West Palm Beach- Florida. The company supports Bombardier- Cessna- Dassault Falcon- Gulfstream and Hawker Beechcraft; engine suppliers include Rolls-Royce- Pratt & Whitney Canada and Honeywell.

In September this year Gama Group also completed the purchase of the trade and assets of UK-based Mann Aviation Group Engineering. That company’s design and production expertise is being integrated into newly-branded Gama Engineering.

“This strategic acquisition enables us to harness the opportunity within the Group to expand our capabilities in defense- special mission- retrofits and modifications. Importantly- the move takes Gama into the rotary [helicopter] support side for the first time too-” concluded Marwan Khalek- Gama Group CEO.

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