x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Middle East turmoil hits private jets

Political unrest in the Middle East has severely disrupted corporate and luxury aviation in the region with pilots struggling to fly and refuel safely.

Ghassan Hamdan, the chief executive of NasJet, says the company has been able to counterbalance loss of business in parts of the Arab world by diversifying product range. Jeff Topping / The National
Ghassan Hamdan, the chief executive of NasJet, says the company has been able to counterbalance loss of business in parts of the Arab world by diversifying product range. Jeff Topping / The National

Political unrest in the Middle East has severely disrupted corporate and luxury aviation in the region with pilots struggling to fly and refuel safely.

Private jet travellers, especially when flying within the Middle East, tend to use smaller jets that have a limited range, making it necessary to stop and refuel.

"We are based in Istanbul and we had to refuel in Sharm El Sheikh to get here," said the pilot of one of the smaller corporate jets on display at the Middle East Business Aviation show in Dubai this week.

Previously, he would have stopped in the more convenient locations of Beirut or Cairo to refuel. He also said he avoids flying over Syrian and Iranian airspace. Flying via Egypt adds time and money to the trip.

It costs US$600 (Dh2,203) per hour to keep a small jet in the air and bigger jets cost many hundreds of dollars more. Ghassan Hamdan, the chief executive of NasJet, the largest luxury jet carrier in the Middle East, according to their website, agreed that regional business aviation had been affected by the instability.

"What happened in Egypt in 2011, 2012 and what is happening today in Syria and in Lebanon has impacted negatively," he said.

Before the unrest there, Egypt used to account for 25 per cent of NasJet's business.

"We lost that totally," said Mr Hamdan.

"In Egypt, many of those who used to own [or were part-owners of] aircraft left Egypt totally and they are scattered. [Those] who are still there, many of them are hesitant to express their wealth openly. They decided to get local flights … They prefer to keep a low profile."

Mr Hamdan said that NasJet was able to counterbalance its loss of business in parts of the Arab world by diversifying its range of products. Rather than just managing corporate jets for owners, the company now also provides repair and maintenance services.

Mike Berry, the Middle East managing director for ExecuJet, said that he envisages a "slow recovery" taking place. While the company has expanded its maintenance and ground handling businesses over the past two years, he said about the charter business that "there is just no trend compared to two years ago".

He explained: "One month it's great and then it's quiet. Charter demand is just not sustainable at the moment. We think it's maybe got to do with some of the situations in the Middle East; people don't want to fly on a regular basis like they were."

lgutcher@thenational.ae