Rapid Growth

Issue: 12-2011By Trevor Esling, Vice President, Sales (Europe, Middle East, Africa & Asia), Cessna Aircraft Company

The Middle East business aviation market will grow and although a preference for wide-body, long-range business jets will remain; midsize aircraft like the Sovereign will continue to grow in importance too

No business aviation market in the world is expanding as rapidly as the Middle East. Over the last 10-15 years, the region’s economy has transformed, despite the inevitable challenges of the recession, and the business aviation market has been carried forward and upwards too.

Throughout this time, Cessna Aircraft Company has been present and active in the Middle East—delivering business jets that have played, and will continue to play, a key role in driving economic growth in the region.

From the mid-1990s, as governments in the Middle East executed less control than before over airspace and aircraft operation, a number of companies began to enter the emerging charter market. An increasingly visible private business and high-net-worth sector started analysing the potential of business jets. Wide-body jets remained the aircraft of choice, but were becoming less dominant; through a process of education in which Cessna played a leading role, the Middle East business jet market began to ‘right-size’. Why fly a large, long-range jet all the time when you are often only travelling domestically in Saudi Arabia between Riyadh and Jeddah? Smaller business aircraft—an area of great strength for Cessna—started to play an increasingly practical and important role in the region. Most notably, perhaps, the mid-size Citation Excel (seating up to nine passengers and commercially launched in 1998) rose to prominence, with the required baggage space, auxiliary power unit (APU) and comfortable range for intra-Middle East travel (as well as flights into south-eastern Europe, north-eastern Africa and western India). The Citation Sovereign followed (commercially launched in 2004) and proved equally capable of meeting many of the business jet needs of the Middle East, with significantly greater range than the Excel (reaching from Riyadh, for example, across all of India and almost all of Europe). Both aircraft offered high-quality business aviation but with low operating costs.

As Middle East economic activity grew post-9/11, so did business aviation, not only in Saudi Arabia but also in particular Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Equally, business jet sales began to rise in the North African Arabicspeaking states, such as Libya, Algeria and Morocco.

Indisputably and inevitably, the Middle East has not been immune to the global recession that began in the late 2000s. Those countries where growth in business jet ownership had, until that point, been strongest, such as the UAE, were particularly affected. Furthermore, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’—the wave of revolutionary activity, protests and demonstrations in the Arab world since December 2010—has hit the region economically and politically, and has probably stalled much of the growth for business aviation for the next few years. Again, countries that had previously been performing well, such as the Maghreb states (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania) and Egypt, have particularly suffered economically because of the Arab Spring.

Ultimately, however, the Middle East business aviation market will grow and although a preference for wide-body, long-range business jets will remain, midsize aircraft like the Sovereign will continue to grow in importance too.

The light jet market—aircraft such as the Citation Mustang—remains small in the region but will develop in time. We have already seen this process occur in similar ‘topdown’ business aviation regions like Russia, where a market traditionally dominated by ultra-wealthy individuals buying only the largest and most expensive business jets has slowly opened up and broadened, recognising the practical value of smaller aircraft for less wealthy operators and owners. On this basis, one can expect the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) markets to increasingly embrace smaller business jets, as relatively low-cost business jet travel offers a great deal to many parts of the business community in the GCC region and beyond.

Looking forward to the next five to 10 years, the light and midsize jet market will grow substantially in the Middle East, although wide-cabin aircraft will continue to lead the market.