Private jet travel demand soaring despite recession fears, trade chief says

Middle Eastern private aviation sector up 25-27% in 2022 from last year in terms of aircraft movements, according to Meeba's Ali Ahmed Alnaqbi

The Middle East & North Africa Business Aviation Association 2022 show will take place on December 6-8 at DWC in Dubai. Photo: Mebaa
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Demand for private jet charter flights in the Middle East and Africa will continue to grow beyond mega events such as Expo 2020 and the Qatar World Cup, despite global economic headwinds, the head of the industry association has said.

The Middle East's private aviation sector has grown 25 to 27 per cent year-on-year in 2022 in terms of aircraft movements, Ali Ahmed Alnaqbi, executive chairman of Mebaa — the Middle East & North Africa Business Aviation Association — said in an online media briefing on Monday.

First and business class travellers who shifted to private travel during the Covid-19 pandemic have continued to take chartered flights rather than revert to scheduled airlines, he said.

Mega events such as the Dubai Expo and the World Cup matches in Doha, as well as an increase in the number of requests for aircraft registration in the UAE, have contributed to the sector's growth, he added.

“We started to see a good level of activity in business aviation whether it's movement of aircraft, the aircraft size [or] aircraft numbers … Definitely, the Middle East and North Africa market is growing,” Mr Alnaqbi said.

“The Dubai market is really growing and leading business aviation in Middle East and North Africa. Dubai Expo and now the Fifa [World Cup] in Qatar had an impact on the business aviation market but that impact is momentary and what we're looking for is the continuation of healthy growth throughout the coming years. That is happening and we can see it in many areas.”

Mr Alnaqbi's comments came ahead of the ninth Mebaa show which is scheduled to take place in Dubai next week, where business aviation executives will gather to discuss industry trends and exhibit new aircraft. The show will take place at the emirate's second hub DWC at the Dubai Airshow site on December 6-8.

While the business aviation industry is facing new aircraft delivery delays due to supply chain snarls and labour shortages, the market for second-hand aircraft is picking up, Mr Alnaqbi said.

“The impact is there on new aircraft but the second-hand market is peaking at the same time, so the net effect is almost the same,” he said.

Bringing the aircraft buyers and manufacturers together through platforms such as the Mebaa show “will pave the road for future growth”, he predicted.

Sustainability concerns

Sustainability will be at the forefront of the discussions at the Mebaa show this year as the aviation industry takes steps towards its target of net-zero emissions by 2050, amid growing pressure from climate change activists.

Global companies involved in the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), touted as a short-term solution to reducing airlines' carbon footprint, are scheduled to meet local fuel producers to “see the best way from the business aviation perspective” for SAF usage, Mr Alnaqbi said.

Mebaa is also in discussion with the UAE's aviation regulator, the General Civil Aviation Authority, to speak with local fuel producers about SAF production and usage, he added.

The global aviation industry accounts for about 4 per cent of global emissions at present, of which business aviation contributes under 1 per cent, according to Mr Alnaqbi.

“From the business aviation industry, no matter how much work you do to help raise the economy or build up countries, you will still face criticism and we accept it,” he said. “We have to accept it and continue doing our business.”

The aviation industry is valuable in transporting people to conduct business, travel home or meet family and friends in the safest and quickest way possible, so “we are there for a good cause and a good reason”, he said.

“You cannot [write off] the aviation industry.”

About 8,500 visitors are expected at the Mebaa show, which has returned after a hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Tim Hawes, managing director of Tarsus Group which is organising the event.

Approximately 95 countries are represented at the show, from South America, Africa, India, Pakistan and Europe, he told reporters.

“The preregistration for international visitors to the show is the highest we've had in the history of the show, so we're seeing a lot of focus from outside looking into the GCC,” Mr Hawes said.

The show has recorded a 10 per cent increase in exhibitors and 38 per cent of them will be coming from countries new to the Mebaa show, he said.

The Mebaa show will feature the BizAv Talks conference, including 20 sessions with 45 global experts discussing trends shaping the industry, from pressing sustainability concerns to the latest aircraft technologies.

Updated: November 29, 2022, 3:30 AM