BUSINESS aviation is becoming more affordable in the Middle East but the sector still has a long way to fly, according to UAE Minister of Economy Shaikha Lubna Al Qasimi.
"Business aviation is really only now coming into its own as a regional industry and there are a number of factors fostering its growth. The need for flexibility outside of commercial airline schedules, the increased ease of access to business aviation facilities, the expertise in business aviation being created in the Middle East by a number of companies, and the changes in cost structure have all made business aviation a more viable sector than it was five or 10 years ago," she said, delivering the keynote address at the Middle East Business Aviation (Meba) conference in Dubai.
Business aviation growth in the UAE, said the minister, signals that the economy is in good shape with more than 1,200 private flights in the UAE per month at present, but she warned that needs to be done to assist the sector's further development.
"Like in a number of other industries, the regulatory side of the equation has not been able to keep pace with the technological innovation, which is why countries are still negotiating air service agreements, why landing rights are still an issue hindering industry growth and why lower cost airlines are not yet serving every market," she said.
Speaking at the same conference, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, president, Department of Civil Aviation, Government of Dubai and chairman of the Emirates Group said civil aviation authorities in the GCC need to co-operate more to free up the sector in the region.
"Middle East business aviation growth has been fuelled by economic success – but it could be a further economic driver. For the sector to further develop, particularly within the GCC, there needs to be greater co-operation among civil aviation authorities towards open skies policies, which will free up the market, increase competition, generate new opportunities – and deliver greater economic success."
He said the commercial proposition for business aviation in the Middle East has become more compelling as the region makes it mark on the world stage for tourism, international events and global commerce.
"At MEBA 2005, the region's business aviation fleet numbered 250 – it now stands at over 300. In addition, research carried out by the Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA) states that the region's charter airline business will double over the next five years and account for 40 per cent of the total aviation market in the region."
However Sheikh Ahmed warned that the regionwide expansion of business aviation will produce both challenges and opportunities for scheduled carriers, whom he said would need to excel in premium products, attractive flight timings, enhanced loyalty programmes and wider networks, adding that business aviation must be viewed as a complementary rather than competitive sector.
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