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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Exclusive: Airbus to tap Gulf private jet market, says sales chief

John Leahy says the A350 is “ideal” for VIP travel and aims to go out to market soon

An Airbus A350 at the Dubai Airshow. The plane maker is yet to sign an order at the event. Karim Sahib/AFP
An Airbus A350 at the Dubai Airshow. The plane maker is yet to sign an order at the event. Karim Sahib/AFP

The French plane maker Airbus will start marketing its A350 wide-body as a private jet in the Arabian Gulf, tapping into strong growth in the Middle East business and VIP travel market, according to its outgoing sales chief John Leahy.

“We’ve not really been marketing the A350 as a private jet [to date] but we’re going to start doing that soon because I think it works very well,” Mr Leahy told The National.

He declined to provide details of when that marketing push may commence, but said certain features of the A350 made it “ideal” for private travel.

“Quite conveniently, it’s got a low cabin altitude and that’s very important [for private jet customers] and fresher air,” he said.

“It also flies very fast – faster than a lot of other airliners, and that combination, with its texture light cabin, makes it ideal for private jets.”

Mr Leahy, who is set to retire as the chief operating officer – commercial, at Airbus by the end of the year, was speaking to The National at Dubai Airshow this week.

Airbus on Wednesday clinched its biggest deal to date with a US$49.5 billion order from the US private equity firm Indigo Partners for 430 A320neo jets for its ultra-low cost portfolio.

However, it has yet to convince Emirates to place an order for new A380 superjumbos, which was expected by some to be announced at the biennial trade show.

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Mr Leahy’s comments suggest the European manufacturer may seek to broaden its strategy in the Gulf by taking advantage of a rise in regional business and VIP travel in recent years.

Figures from the market intelligence firm WINGX in January claimed business aircraft departures from the UAE in 2016 totalled 2,568 compared with 2,165 in 2015 and 2,155 in 2014.

Most of the departures were from Dubai’s expanding second airport, Al Maktoum International (DWC) at Dubai South, where the VIP Terminal, a dedicated facility catering to ultra-high net worth travellers, is located.

Dubai South Aviation District is witnessing significant growth in private jet activities, with four operators – DC Aviation Al Futtaim, Execujet, Jetex and Falcon Aviation – all having operations there.

DC Aviation Al Futtaim broke ground on a major expansion of its facility in October that will add a second hangar with 6,800 square metres of covered space.

Jetex, too, will build a second hangar at Dubai South, after witnessing double-digit growth in its business there over the past 12 months, the Jetex chief executive Adel Martini told The National the week before Dubai Airshow.

Selling the A350 to a private customer would not be a first for Airbus – even though Mr Leahy said the company had not been actively marketing the airliner in this space. In 2014, Airbus sold its first A350 to an unnamed corporate customer that was scheduled to take delivery of the aircraft in 2020.

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