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Despite the many hurdles to overcome- the Middle East is likely to flourish in the long-term as a global Business Aviation player. BizJet Advisor reviews the shape of the region and its key advocate – the Middle East Business Aviation Association.

Liz Moscrop   |   1st November 2011
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Liz Moscrop Liz Moscrop

Liz Moscrop has written extensively about Business Aviation for several years and specializes in...
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Industry eyes bigger role in global market

Despite the many hurdles to overcome- the Middle East is likely to flourish in the long-term as a global Business Aviation player. BizJet Advisor reviews the shape of the region and its key advocate – the Middle East Business Aviation Association.

The Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA) is one of the most active Business Aviation forums in the world. Representing the major players in the region’s Corporate Aviation community- the association plays a key role in trying to shape legislation and develop the sector across the Gulf. It is also extremely bullish about the role the region will play in the global market.

According to founding Chairman Ali Al Naqbi- “MEBAA is dedicated to promoting the cause of the region’s Business Aviation community- and creating an environment that enables the industry to gain traction.”

Al Naqbi helped establish the association as the main venue to collate data- as well as understand and convey the needs and benefits of Business Aviation across the region to users - including royalty- businesses and governments. Today MEBAA has more than 150 members- and Al Naqbi believes the association is the ideal venue to resolve problems like the illegal charter or “grey” market. Also within the sights of MEBAA as topics to address are the shortages of maintenance providers- hangarage- airport access and pilots.

Further- MEBAA is committed to enhancing safety- security- efficiency and acceptance of the market. The Gulf is recognized as one of the key markets for private aviation- and Al Naqbi is determined to help shape it as a safe one.

To this end he aims to set up an informal working group dubbed “Middle East Control” [rather like the early days of Eurocontrol when the six founding member states collaborated to achieve integrated air traffic services across Europe]. With 22 jurisdictions covering the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region- Al Naqbi is aware he has a lot of work ahead of him. “This is not necessarily a governmentbacked entity- rather a private grouping of small companies working together to start something that we hope will eventually be adopted across the whole Middle East and North Africa region.”

The local Business Aviation market is forecast to grow by 15- 20% per year- to over $1 billion ten years from now. This will see it rise from $500 million today- with a total of 1-300 business jets in operation (up from 460). MEBAA also predicts that the Middle East and North Africa markets will account for 20-25% of all new business jet deliveries worldwide between 2012-2018 - a share that is projected to be worth around $463 billion.

Identifying the Hurdles
There are several challenges and opportunities facing the regional community- and this year has cast some particularly tough situations: alongside the advent of the “Arab Spring-” the shifting political regional tide- for example. Political instability in Egypt- Libya- Syria- and Yemen has thrown the industry into chaos- (albeit temporarily in some cases).

Nevertheless - Al Naqbi observes - with the exception of Egypt- the combined turbulent markets represent less than five percent of the Gulf’s revenues. “In the long-term this will be good for the industry when things settle. The situation has also had a positive effect on movements in neighboring countries.”

Although Libya- Tunisia and Yemen are such small regional players at present- MEBAA still believes there is greater potential in all countries when things settle. In Yemen- for example- there is not a single AOC issued for Business Aviation- although Al Naqbi notes there are 12 Yemeni owners with Swiss-registered aircraft. Challenges in these countries/regions include infrastructure and people skills.

The grey market is also a cause for concern. Al Naqbi declined to put a figure on the number of such flights in the region- but said that the education process to counter such flights would have to involve airports- brokers- users and Fixed Base Operators (FBOs). “The GCAA [UAE General Civil Aviation Authority] has to impose rules- but airports cannot monitor all the legal requirements-” he noted. “The responsibility should also go to the FBO who releases the aircraft.”

Finding the Solutions
Al Naqbi believes that raising awareness is the key to success in counteracting these problems- and MEBAA achieves this partly by running the biannual trade show Middle East Business Aviation (MEBA). Last year’s third edition of the show ran at Dubai’s Airport Expo- and was the world’s third largest private aviation tradeshow. The International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) met in the region for the first time the day after the show finished - and that meeting was a real coup for MEBAA- which only began in 2007.

Alison Weller- managing director of F&E Aerospace (which organizes the show) said that a good barometer of the significance of the show last year was the fact that Asian companies signed up and expressed interest for the first time. “Usually Asian companies are region-centric- or only attend the major world shows- such as the Paris Air Show or Farnborough International-” she remarked. “We are very encouraged at the enquires we have received.”

Both Al Naqbi and Weller stress that they would ideally like to see MEBA move around the region eventually. “I would like to see MEBAA have an office in all the GCAAs in the region- but we have limited resources as a non-profit organization-” Al Naqbi pointed out.

Weller added that many countries are as yet unable to host such a large event. “We will consider taking it around the region if facilities allow – this forms part of our long-term plan. Dubai at the moment is willing to host it.”

Over the long term MEBAA would also like to introduce an awards system- whereby key movers and shakers are honored at the show- as well as to move the show to an annual basis. In the meantime Al Naqbi reckons MEBAA offers a great deal of value for members. The organization is focusing on five main goals:

• Setting up a data-bank of anonymous industry data on the number of movements- hours and sectors flown;
• Sharing perspectives and best practices;
• Achieving effective communications strategies- in particular with media and GCAA regulatory bodies via conferences and events;
• Improving members’ welfare through training and conferences;
• Establishing a regional industry code of conduct.

(In addition to the above five key objectives- MEBAA also aims to create a forum for insurance and fuel purchases- where volume acquisitions translate into discounts for members.)

In the past- MEBAA has asked for more support from the more mature Business Aviation associations- and Al Naqbi explained- “I’d like to see more minimum cooperation between MEBAA and groups from more established markets. The sector in the Middle East has really only just started.”

Ultimately- Al Naqbi would like to see such innovations as a common pool of information in a shared database to help counter security issues- as well as shape a global business jet market. “We can’t impose rules- but we can certainly be proactive in making suggestions to operators- which would make the authorities happy as well-” he concluded.

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