Middle East Business Aviation expands to Three Day Event

Travel News Asia Monday, 12 February 2007

Middle East Business Aviation (MEBA), a dedicated B2B conference and exhibition for the regions business aviation sector, is to expand to a three-day event on its next showing in 2008.

The expansion follows exhibitor and visitor feedback for last months two-day event at Airport Expo Dubai which notched up an impressive US $907 million on-site order book with Wallan Aviation of the UAE receiving a US $75 million order for Cessna aircraft.

We have sold two CJs one to a charter operator in Dubai, the other to an existing customer in Saudi Arabia and we also sold five Mustangs to a brand new customer we met at the show who is going to use them for an air taxi service in the Gulf, said Saad Wallan, CEO, Wallan Aviation.

The Cessna order, which came in the closing hours of the show, topped up an on-site order book which also boasted US$580 million worth of sales for Airbus, a US$250 million deal the regions biggest jet agreement from Saudi charter business and Netjets affiliate National Air Services for 20 Hawker 750 aircraft from Raytheon Aircraft Company and a US$52 million Bombardier confirmation for four Learjet 60XR from Saudi-based businessman Ghassan Tabbah Shalabi as well as buyers from Kuwait and the UAE.

And the knock-on order book for the show is expected to at least double with Wallan Aviation negotiating a further two CJ sales and Gulf Aircraft Partnership following up on very strong interest for 15 of its new Kestrel turboprop.

31 aircraft were on display, and the final visitor tally totaled 2,401 with the registration profile including members of ruling families from throughout the Gulf, the highest echelons of corporate business from the wider Middle East and Africa and the heads of family conglomerates within the GCC.

VVIP visitors included His Royal Highness Prince Sultan Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia and Dr. Vijay Mallya, Chairman and Managing Director of Indias Kingfisher Airlines. Both proffered optimistic forecasts for business aviation in the region.

Business aviation has become a need both regionally and internationally because of increased global trade, commerce and tourism activities, said Prince Sultan. It is also due to the fact that passengers and clients have recently experienced a dip in the services offered by commercial airline companies internationally. Saudi businessmen are extremely active and need private jets to be even more effective.

Some Saudi businessmen start their day flying to Kuwait at 0800 hours in their private jets then fly back to different cities within the country to follow up on their business. Another factor is the KSA is a big country and traveling from the north to the south is much more time efficient in a private aircraft.

Addressing delegates at the MEBA conference, Ali Al Naqbi, Chairman of the Middle East Business Association (MEBAA) said that Saudi Arabia is the Gulfs biggest business aviation market representing 50% of the regional fleet which is now in excess of 300 aircraft.

Vijay Mallya said, We have begun receiving a number of charter requests in India and see new business opportunities in this area. To fill the gap for an aircraft in the 30-50 range, we plan on tapping into the charter business where we can enjoy fractional ownership. By visiting aircraft on display at MEBAs static park, I now have a better understanding of what is available in the market as well as the latest models to choose from.

The MEBA 2007 conference heard keynote speakers His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President, Department of Civil Aviation, Government of Dubai and Chairman of Emirates Group and Her Excellency Sheikha  Lubna Al Qasimi, the UAE Minister of Economy, deliver calls for greater GCC co-operation to free up business aviation skies in the region.

Sheikh Ahmed said business aviation could serve as an economic driver if it was given a helping hand in the region.

For the sector to further develop, particularly within the GCC, there needs to be greater co-operation among civil aviation authorities towards open skies policies, which will free up the market, increase competition, generate new opportunities and deliver greater economic success, he said.

Sheikha Lubna was in agreement, Just as in a number of other industries, its the regulatory side of the equation that has not been able to keep pace with the technological innovation, which is why countries are still negotiating air service agreements and why landing rights are still an issue hindering industry growth.

The regulation around business aviation is still very much a grey area in the Middle East, with increased co-operation required between the civil aviation authorities in each country to ensure that business aviation traffic is not just tolerated, but welcomed and catered for.

MEBA 2007 was organised by Fairs & Exhibitions (F&E), the name behind the Dubai Airshow on behalf of MEBAA. It featured 90 exhibitors from 20 countries.

MEBA will now be a biennial event with the 2008 edition scheduled for November 23-25.

This will alternate yearly with the Dubai Airshow and means that the UAE will now annually host an international aerospace event, said Virginia Kern, Chairman, F&E. 

And MEBAA believes the event will witness considerable expansion in the years to come as the regions business aviation sector gathers momentum.

Interest was intense throughout the show both in the association and the marketplace, said Ali Al Naqbi. In the Middle East, business aviation activities are growing at approximately 11% a year and the stage is now set to take the MEBA initiative to a new level.

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