Dubai’s dreaming – MEBA 2014
No region is growing faster than the Middle East, as evidenced in a dynamic edition of the Middle East Business Aviation Show (December 8-10 2014). With announcements galore, mergers afoot and innovative new ideas and partnerships, Dubai demonstrated once again why it is key to the international private aviation scene.
British firms had a strong showing and I was minded somewhat of the startling nineties pairing of bad boy Michael Hutchence and the squeaky clean Kylie Minogue, when I heard the news that two leading British business aviation companies with interests in the Middle East and Africa, Hangar 8 and Gama Aviation, are to merge. Neither firm, of course, has the characteristics of the shock rockers, but they definitely have two different personalities. It has to be said that the original merger did both popstars the power of good, so let’s hope the same thing happens here. The new company, – to be called Gama Aviation plc, will have a market capitalisation of £120 million (about $188 million) and make it one of the five leading operators in business aviation worldwide.
The merged company will manage 144 aircraft and operate from 44 different locations in 15 countries across five continents. It will have a strong presence in North America, the UK, continental Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia as well as South America. It will offer a comprehensive service, operating and supporting aircraft from all major manufacturers and all classes of private jet aircraft.
Hangar8 chief Dustin Dryden said: “Hangar8 has achieved much in its short history but, in our highly regulated industry, success at all levels is now entirely driven by scale. Today our clients, many with ultra-long range aircraft, require their premier suppliers to be truly global too with the ability to supply a full range of private aviation services across the globe.
Marwan Khalek, Gama’s CEO added: “The two businesses enjoy a complementary geographical coverage,” he continued. “They have a good operational fit and have been pursuing similar growth strategies built on a profitable and robust business model. Bringing them together into Gama Aviation plc will create a business of significant scale and one with unparalleled breadth of geographical coverage and depth of capability and service.”
Hangar8 operates primarily in Europe and Africa while Gama Aviation operates across Europe, the US, Far East and the Middle East. Gama Aviation has four AOCs, which when combined with Hangar8’s AOCs, will provide global coverage.
The deal will be put before shareholders in January 2015 but “Irrevocable Undertakings” to vote in favour already give it an overwhelming majority.
Fellow Brits London based The Jet Business, – the world’s first ever street-level corporate aviation showroom – signed a deal with Saudi firm Nasjet for the acquisition and sale of private jet aircraft and ancillary services. Nasjet is hoping that the agreement will enable it to negotiate competitive terms for private aircraft sales for its clients, whether as sellers or buyers and benefiting from The Jet Business’s aggressive research and marketing business framework, in areas such as charter brokerage, aircraft management, aircraft operations, pilot training sales, jet card sales and business jet sales.
Mergers aside, training will pay a big part in serving the future players in the Gulf, and FlightSafety International threw down the gauntlet, bu launching a challenge to the CAE-Emirates dominance of training centres in the UAE with a partnership deal with Abu Dhabi Aviation. (Update – CAE has now announced a second Dubai facility – Jan 2015).
The two organisations have signed a Letter of Intent to establish a Learning Centre in Abu Dhabi. The signing took place at the Middle East Business Aviation conference in Dubai. This follows the Memorandum of Understanding signed in October, 2014.
“Signing this Letter of Intent with Abu Dhabi Aviation to establish a new Learning Center demonstrates our commitment to provide conveniently located high quality training services to aircraft operators in the Middle East,” said David Davenport, senior vice president. “Abu Dhabi Aviation’s experience and expertise in aviation, and reputation for delivering outstanding service, made them the ideal partner for this important project.”
Abu Dhabi Aviation chairman Nadir Al Hammadi, said: “Selecting FlightSafety to provide industry-leading flight simulators and proven instructional technologies for the new learning centre will establish Abu Dhabi as a major aviation hub and centre of excellence for training in the Middle East,”
The first phase is scheduled to open in September 2015. The 8,000 square meter facility will accommodate eight full flight simulators and feature classrooms equipped with advanced technology training systems. Phase two will double the centre’s size and increase the number of flight simulators to 17.
It will offer training and related services for a wide variety of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft and will serve operators of business, commercial and military aircraft.
Other announcements came courtesy of Swiss-based Vertis Aviation, which has added a Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) and a Gulfstream G450 to its expanding charter portfolio. The BBJ will serve routes from the Middle East to Europe with the operator anticipating routes such as Doha to London or Jeddah to Paris as the most popular. The jet, which is managed by Malta-based Privajet, and operated by a European crew, with two flight attendants and a chef on board, can accommodate up to 19 passengers each
“We’ve had a very positive year which has been buoyed up by the success of the Middle East office. It’s great to be expanding our portfolio as we know many clients are fans of the BBJ and Gulfstream models,” said partner Jeffrey Emmenis. “We anticipate the addition of our first BBJ will be highly sought after by our Middle Eastern clients and we look forward to offering it exclusively to our select client base.”
I posted this for my client HMG Aerospace – but here is my take on inflight entertainment and connectivity
Relaxation of stringent rules geared at commercial airlines will help the private aviation sector flourish in the Gulf. While the rules themselves cannot be changed easily, it was evident at the Middle East Business Aviation Association Conference (MEBAAC) the day before the Middle East Business Aviation (MEBA) show, that there is a genuine desire to support the burgeoning business aviation industry in the region. Waivers and workarounds were the order of the day, coming straight from the horses’ mouths – industry regulators from the UAE and Bahrain, inviting operators to apply for special dispensations.
This is good news for players in the IFEC sector, as the industry evolves apace in the region. Indeed, the MEBA show in Dubai this December proved definitively that there is room in business aviation for the plethora of technologies coming out of the IFEC sector.
Every new aircraft announced as a completion deal or delivery waxed lyrical about the connectivity or entertainment possibilities (Comlux said customers absolutely want to control their systems with their own carry on devices). And key players were out in force touting their wares: Lufthansa Technik, Flight Display Systems, Honeywell and Rockwell Collins were all in attendance.
As the exclusive hardware developer for Ka band, Honeywell has an exclusive deal with service providers in the business aviation field with Satcom 1. Heavily involved with Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband and the move up from 432 kb/sec to 33 Mb/sec connection speed, Honeywell claimed certification should be completed by mid-2015. At MEBA the firm brought a “virtual reality seat” to its stand where visitors could experience a virtual world of all the technologies it can put in an aircraft–cockpit.
Satcom1 talked about the new techniques it is employing, which bond between three and four Inmarsat SwiftBroadband channels. The research is taking place at Satcom1’s lab at Le Bourget business airport in Paris. It follows the company’s initial breakthrough in aggregation technology, which combined two SwiftBroadband channels, providing a speed of 800 Kbps on average. It has updated its AvioPhone system to allow passengers to use their own SIM card and Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) number while flying.
The new AvioPhone GSM app, activated by SMS validation, means that when passengers with mobile US and European phone GSM numbers place a call from the aircraft to any phone on the ground (fixed or mobile line), their own GSM number will be displayed. Likewise, the GSM number remains active during the flight, so passengers are able to receive calls from the ground.
Gogo Business Aviation has expanded its presence in the Middle East, with an agent based in Abu Dhabi and the opening of a new office in Dubai.
The firm also promoted the product it announced at NBAA for Gogo-equipped business jets – Text & Talk for SwiftBroadband. Text & Talk is a software upgrade that allows Gogo customers to use their own smartphones to send and receive text messages and make telephone calls, without having to dial special numbers or codes, just like using their smartphone on the ground. Text & Talk has been available on Gogo’s air-to-ground network, which is available only in the US and Canada, so the expansion to Gogo’s Aviator SwiftBroadband system opens Text & Talk to the rest of the world.
Gogo’s inflight entertainment system, the Gogo Vision streaming movie delivery service, is now only available for US-registered aircraft, because of region content licensing agreements. Next year, the company plans to sign new region licensing agreements so it can offer Gogo Vision to operators flying aircraft registered in other countries.
OnAir has the largest slice of the commercial market in the region, and CEO Stephan Egli talked about its offerings for the business aviation sector: Internet OnAir, OnAir Play, for streaming on-demand entertainment content; and Mobile OnAir, a cellular network solution.
OnAir has also been developing an e-Aircraft concept with parent company SITA, which in addition to its other services, aims to incorporate maintenance and aircraft health monitoring capabilities.
Satcom Direct, meanwhile, announced a dealership agreement with Emteq, meaning its customers can choose to install a Satcom Direct Router (SDR) integrated with the latter’s eConnect Suite of Solutions.
With this new integrated solution passengers can stream media to their personal electronic devices or cabin monitors in high definition, as well as controlling the cabin environment. It also introduced talk and text. Clients now have the option to use their mobile phones in the air as they would on the ground for both incoming and outgoing voice calls and text messages.
Rockwell Collins announced that its cabin management system, Venue, and in-flight entertainment solution, Airshow, are to be installed on a wide-body Airbus A340 business jet for an undisclosed customer from mid-2015. Venue’s audio and video on-demand function will provide the A340 with full-cabin video and music streaming capabilities for both Apple and Android devices, managed using intuitive cabin controls. Venue is designed to be fault-tolerant, with ruggedised fibre-optic backbone, offering maximum system availability while providing necessary bandwidth to integrate the latest consumer technologies.
The A340 aircraft will also feature various-sized large HD monitors for optimised viewing of Blu-ray movies and other high-resolution content.
Is MEBA worth a visit next time for anyone interested in this industry? I’d say snooze or lose. It’s one of the world’s most promising shows.