Ali Al Naqbi joined the Presidential Flight Authority in 1990 as a 22-year-old. In 2003, he launched Royal Jet, a luxury flight provider, then went on to found the Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA) in 2006. This is now the fourth largest such organisation globally, he says. Mr Al Naqbi speaks about the growth of business aviation in the region.
Why did you set up MEBAA?
We found there was a big demand for business aviation but the awareness of people about it is very limited. I came up with MEBAA to raise awareness. We are very proud to have the business association of business aviation based in the UAE. It is one of the most successful [such] associations in the world. We grew very fast from six members to more than 190. We are considered the fourth-largest association - out of the 15 that cover the entire globe - after the European, Canadian and American ones.
What does MEBAA do?
There are no rules actually written by the Civil Aviation Authority about business aviation. All the rules which we have today are adapted from the rules of commercial airlines. Here in the Middle East we have [numerous] countries and getting them in one room to discuss the interests of business aviation is a big challenge. Second, there is no awareness; people think that business aviation is for luxury. Actually, business aviation is not for that. It is a tool of profitability. We [also explain to potential] investors [in the aviation industry] that they are most welcome to come here and there are rules that can protect them. People, before they put [out] money, they want to see how safe that market it. We have a presentation to welcome investors to our country ... to say this is a safe environment, you don't have to think twice if you want to come and make an investment here. We show them what other companies went through to establish and the time it took them.
You work with Mubadala, right?
Mubadala is leading aviation innovation in the UAE and [subsidiary] Strata builds spare parts of Airbus and Boeing here. There is a huge amount of aircraft coming to the market but the manpower to handle the demand is limited. We joined forces with Mubadala [a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government] and launched a campaign to make the aviation industry appealing for young students. We are really supporting them when it comes to business aviation because it is such an important element in the Middle East.
One of the challenges you face is illegal flights. Tell us about that.
Every aircraft has a licence. Certain brokers play a very bad role [doing deals with the pilots of privately licensed aircraft to do charter flights]. He starts contacting passengers telling them he can provide a charter for much less than market price. But it's illegal and if it had an accident or crash, it would not be covered by insurance. MEBAA is making a campaign to promote awareness of illegal flights through www.ismyflightlegal.com. The idea is that if anyone knows about an illegal flight he can report it.