For more than 30 years Jet Aviation has had a vibrant Middle East presence. It has recently signed a deal to operate at Al Bateen Executive Airport, having already been in business for decades in Saudi Arabia and then Dubai. Jo Murray finds out what Jet Aviation’s Middle East strategy is from: Christof Spaeth, Senior Vice President MRO and FBO Services of Jet Aviation EMEA & Asia; Michael Rücker, Senior VP and General Manager of Jet Aviation Dubai; and Hardy Bütschi, Vice President & General Manager of Jet Aviation Saudi Arabia
Jet Aviation was the first company to set up an FBO in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia when it formed its Saudi-Swiss joint venture company, Jet Aviation Saudi Arabia, in 1979. The company started in Jeddah, providing ground handling and maintenance services for the private aviation industry, opening its second FBO in the Middle East in Riyadh two years later. The facilities in Jeddah and Riyadh offer FBO services, line maintenance and AOG services to private, business and military operators. The two locations each hold Saudi Arabian PCA licenses.
The Saudi operation has experienced both service expansion and capacity expansion, points out Spaeth. “For example, we have recently moved from the old Jeddah terminal into a new terminal, which allows us to grow further in the local market. We look to do similar things in Riyadh. Of course, we are always looking for possibilities outside these two locations where there is enough traffic to undertake some kind of handling support for our customers,” he says.
The maintenance and FBO location in Dubai was established in May 2005, and the company has constantly developed its service portfolio based on customer and OEM demands. At EBACE 2011, Jet Aviation signed an agreement with Abu Dhabi Airports Company for the lease of offices at Al Bateen Executive Airport, where Jet Aviation will be Al Bateen Executive’s first independent MRO provider. Jet Aviation’s service offering will include line maintenance through a newly established Jet Aviation Abu Dhabi branch office and staffing services through Jet Professionals, a subsidiary of the Jet Aviation Group. Jet Aviation has attained temporary approval to provide services at Al Bateen until the necessary trade licenses from the authorities come through.
“We are running Al Bateen as part of a Dubai operation,” says Rücker. “There is a lot of potential in Abu Dhabi and our main goal is to support grounded aircraft.” Spaeth adds that Jet Aviation was attracted to Abu Dhabi by the dedicated VIP and business aviation airport concept, but states that Jet Aviation’s regional Middle East strategy is essentially built on leadership provided by the Dubai operation. “Throughout the region there is a common customer base for which we offer common services,” he says, commenting on the rationale for this.
To date, Jet Aviation Dubai is an authorised service centre for maintenance and warranty support to Boeing BBJ, the Gulfstream GIV and GV series, the Dassault Falcon 900, 2000 and 7X series, the Hawker Beechcraft jets series and Embraer Legacy aircraft, including L4 inspections. The missing Bombardier capability to support CL604, CL605 and GLEX in Jet Aviation’s Middle East portfolio will be added at the new Al Bateen facility by next Summer. Al Bateen will also likely see maintenance capability for light interior repairs, and the Airbus ACJ is on the radar in terms of providing support.
Jet Aviation points out that the Dubai operation has experienced a substantial increase in base maintenance Certificates of Return to Service (CRS) issued for Embraer Legacy aircraft. With the
largest Embraer Legacy customer base in the Middle East, Jet Aviation Dubai has issued markedly more Embraer Legacy CRSs to date this year than last. High-end products like the Falcon 7X, the G450/550 and, in the future, the G650 are also entering the Middle East region in substantial numbers. Jet Aviation Dubai is expected to support a fleet of up to five Falcon 7Xs by the end of 2011 and three Falcon 7X are already operating in India and the UAE.
Spaeth notes that putting aircraft support in place for the future Middle East aircraft fleet requires copious data gathering. “All of the information that we receive helps us to determine delivery rates and we are also working on a monthly record of movements. We make calculations with this information to predict maintenance requirements and movements. It might not be perfect, but it gives us a good indication of how much traffic and handling will be required of our FBOs.”
Spaeth also points out that Jet Aviation always makes investments based on long-term prospects and in-depth conversations with the OEMs. “You need to invest where nothing already exists, which is a very tough decision,” he says. “We might make a decision based on an existing fleet, should we see enough business of certain aircraft types. We are looking for critical volume to ensure that our investment in training and tooling pays off.”
Building connections with customers so that Jet Aviation can fully serve them wherever and whatever they fly is the key. “Long-term relationships mean a lot to us and we honour the trust and open communication on which they are built,” Spaeth says. He adds that both Bütschi in Saudi and Rücker in Dubai offer clients a “one roof solution.” Although the Dubai operation is more developed than Saudi’s, both operations benefit by sharing facilities.”
Of course Jet Aviation’s Middle East operations also feed into the company’s VIP completions business in Europe. In fact the first aircraft completed for a Middle Eastern client was a 757-200 in 1997. Jet Aviation has since outfitted an additional 17 wide-body and narrow-body aircraft for both Boeing and Airbus aircraft types for a range of prestigious VVIP clients in the Middle Eastern region. In addition, Jet Aviation has completed 10 major refurbishment projects for Middle Eastern clients, as well as numerous smaller refurbishments across a variety of aircraft types. Four of Jet Aviation’s current completions and major refurbishment projects are for this important client base, which is complemented by an equally strong client base in other regions, notably Russia and Eastern Europe.
Both within and beyond the Middle East, Jet Aviation is always looking for growth opportunities and business synergies. Perhaps the Indian market beckons. Whether growth will be alone or through partnerships – as in Saudi – will be dictated by market circumstances.
Spaeth says: “Where possible, we prefer to fully own an operation, but if we are compelled to have a partner, it can help to have a strong partner with whom we can grow faster. There is also a risk-sharing aspect which may come into play.”
In whichever way Jet Aviation enters a new market, one thing is sure: it remains a full-service global aviation company offering maintenance, FBO, aircraft management and charter services to meet the needs of its customers, whatever they may be. Each line of business provides legitimate and necessary service offerings – they are not shop fronts for more intensive operations, such as completions and heavy maintenance. But the synergies between regional operations in the Middle East – as well as globally – are compelling. There is nothing ad hoc about Jet Aviation’s business strategy in any region – and especially not in the Middle East.