Private jet sales in the Middle East are soaring, shrugging off record high fuel prices and the worldwide economic malaise that has beset the industry elsewhere, according to senior aviation officials. "The movement of small business planes in the Middle East is growing by 18 per cent a year, compared with the global average of 10 per cent," said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the chairman of Dubai City of Aviation Corporation. "The Middle East business aviation market is expected to reach US$800 million (Dh2.9 billion) by 2012."
He said the credit crisis in the US had resulted in fewer orders being placed for corporate jets. By contrast, the Middle East was a "huge market" for the business jet industry, said Khalifa al Zaffin, the executive chairman of Dubai World Central (DWC), the 140-square-kilometre mixed-use urban and aviation development in Dubai. As a result, local aviation infrastructure was being expanded to accommodate the growing fleet of aircraft.
"With Dubai World Central building the region's largest executive jet terminal, with an eventual handling capacity of 100,000 flight movements annually, the region will have unrestrained capacity for business aviation flights," Mr Zaffin said. According to industry analysts, manufacturers expect to sell more than 1,250 jets this year, compared to 1,138 last year. There are currently 22 private jet operators in the Middle East.
The US$1.36bn DWC Aviation City, an aviation project within DWC, will be home to an executive jet terminal and the world's largest maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) centre. It has already begun attracting operators who are establishing their base at the adjacent DWC Al Maktoum International Airport. "Dubai has seen a 30 per cent increase in executive flights in the last three years," said Abdulla al Qurashi, the chief executive of DWC Aviation City. "Last year saw nearly 9,000 executive jet movements at Dubai International Airport.".
Mr Qurashi said that the current expansion of private aircraft fleets was expected to create a secondary market and demand for after-sales services and spare parts. "This is where our project steps in as a one-stop shop for all business aviation needs," he said. Construction on DWC Aviation City has already begun, with operations projected to start next year. Al Maktoum International Airport goes live with initial operations by the end of this year, and has been designed to handle up to 150 million passengers, as well as 12 million tons of cargo annually. Infrastructure costs for DWC currently stand at US$33bn.
Meanwhile, Emirates airline, the Dubai-based carrier, said it would increase fares from next month in response to rising fuel costs. Business and first class tickets will go up 10 per cent, and economy tickets will rise five per cent. The scheduled rise next month was the second fare increase in three months. * WAM