Commercial, Personal/Corporate

Fostering Flying in the Mideast

By Douglas W. Nelms | January 1, 2006

Industry leaders call for an NBAA-like group to speak up for business aviation interests in the burgeoning region.

Middle East aviation industry leaders are calling for the formation of a group similar to associations in the United States and Europe to promote the cause of business aviation in the region.

The call for the new organization was made during the Middle East Business Aviation Conference held Nov. 19, just prior to the biennial Dubai Air Show. The former head of the U.S.-based National Business Aviation Assn., Jack Olcott, said that while the call for the new association was made by conference organizers and sponsors, the movement was spearheaded by the director of finance and administration for Abu Dhabi-based Amiri Flight, Sheikh Ali Al Naqbi. Currently president of General Aero Co., a business-aviation management and consulting firm based in Morristown, N.J., Olcott said the move also was supported by the president and CEO of National Air Service in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Al Zeer.

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"If there is a business aviation association formed, it will have to include helicopters," Olcott said. "There is just no way you could have something like that without some reference to helicopters."

Calls for a new corporate aircraft association are based on expectations that the use of business aircraft will expand in the region and that a trade group would provide a way to gather reliable statistics on the industry, he said. "If there were such an association, there could be the collection of relevant operational data, as well as a way to address issues that are important for the healthy growth of this form of transportation."

The director of operations for Dubai-based Heli-Dubai, Barry Smith, said several factors are feeding the growth of the corporate helicopter industry throughout the United Arab Emirates, particularly in Dubai, which has become the financial and technical hub of the Middle East. Not the least of these is the growing ground traffic problem, with the highway infrastructure unable to keep up with the influx of businesses from around the world.

"It's becoming almost as bad as London," Smith said.

Heli-Dubai is a government-owned, independent operation started last year with two A109E Powers primarily to provide VIP transport to the seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel. It now serves other areas, such as the ecotourism desert resorts of Bab al Sham and Al Maha, Smith said. It is looking for larger aircraft, such as the Bell 412, "to accommodate tour operators who have larger party groups." Longer term, Heli-Dubai is considering offshore operations.

The ability of foreigners to own property in Dubai, construction of the first of three Palm Island projects and near completion of the World Islands are also feeding the helicopter industry by attracting more wealth to the area. The World Islands and Palm Islands are manmade islands just offshore in the Persian Gulf, with homes in the $1-million-plus range. They are being purchased primarily as second homes by people who travel to Dubai on a regular basis for business and pleasure.

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