The private jet charter business in the Middle East is worth $500 million (Dh1.8 billion) a year – and the figure is expected to soar to $1bn by 2013.
The sector has witnessed an annual growth of 40 per cent since 2003, said Ammar Balkar, President and CEO of the Middle East Business Aviation Association (Mebaa).
“The total number of private jets in the region is 500,” he told Emirates Business on Sunday at the Very Light Jet conference in Dubai. “But the industry is developing so fast that we expect the number to increase to more than 1,000 in the next five years.”
Mebaa statistics show that between 1975 and 1999 there was just one private jet operator in the UAE – but today there are 22.
Dubai handled only six private jet flights in 1998, but the total has now reached 7,000 a year, said Jamal Zaal Bin Krishan, General Manager of General Aviation at Dubai Airports.
“The rate of increase in the overall use of private jets is 30 per cent,” he added. “And keeping the growth in mind, the new Al Maktoum International Airport at Jebel Ali will have a large hangar space to accommodate the growing number of jets that are operating from here.”
Balkar said: “The demand is such that in the UAE alone there are 26 new companies in the pipeline that want to start operating private jets. And in Saudi there are currently 38 applications from new private jet operators.”
He said private jets were increasingly in demand because many companies were relocating to the region and businessmen wanted to fly without the hassle of delays and long queues at airport check-in counters.
“Security and privacy are also reasons for the increased use of private jets,” he said.
“These jets were once used only by royalty and heads of state but now there is a trend towards businessmen, executives and high-net-worth individuals using them because they are quicker and far more efficient.”
Balkar said the arrival of more operators would push down prices – making private jet travel a financially viable option for more fliers.
“Currently the cheapest rate available is $3,000 per hour per passenger and that goes up to $15,000 an hour. But with the increase in supply, the rates per hour could dip further to $1,500 – and that means four or five executives or businessmen could charter a private jet for the same price they would pay to travel business or first class.
“And of course more competition means better service, cheaper rates and more flexibility and options.”
But Balkar said the need to improve ground services for private jets was one of the biggest challenges in the Middle East.
“We need more airports and improved facilities in the region. Some of the airports do not have basic facilities like a business lounge for private jet passengers and parking space for the jets.”
He said Mebaa was working with the authorities to create awareness and raise standards in the region to the levels offered in the West
Private jet travel to hit $1bn by 2013