ExecuJet new MRO facility in Dubai South is under construction. Image Credit: Execujet

Dubai: Aviation services firms, emerging from the two-year pandemic that hit travel demand, are doubling down on their efforts to expand in Dubai ahead of the highly anticipated FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Thousands of fans are expected to make Dubai and Abu Dhabi their base during the sporting event, that runs for almost a month, bringing in more than 1.2 million visitors from around the world. Several airlines and private jet firms are already gearing up to operate daily shuttle flights from UAE to Qatar.

Switzerland-based ExecuJet Aviation Group expects to open its business aviation MRO center at Dubai World Central Airport (DWC) by the fourth quarter. The 15,000 square metre facility can accommodate 18 to 24 business jets simultaneously, including Dassault’s Falcon 6X and 10X, as well as other large business jets from different manufacturers.

“There were some delays in the construction due to the pandemic, but we are certainly hoping to have it open around the time to support the Qatar World Cup,” said Nick Weber, Regional Vice-President, ExecuJet MRO services. “There’s a real push in terms of construction and once all the finishing touches are done, we have to get approvals from the fire department, Dubai Police, customs and federal authorities that need to certify the project.”

ExecuJet aims to conduct at least six ‘heavy’ inspections at any given time and more hourly as well as calendar-driven inspections, said Weber. Aircraft inspection can range from a quick visual walk-around to a complete teardown of the aircraft engine. While most large airlines have their own crew to perform these processes, smaller operators often rely on firms like ExecuJet.

Another entrant

DAFZA-based Aviation Services Management (ASM) is planning to set up a general aviation management company, which will be a ‘one-stop shop’ for all aircraft maintenance needs, according to its CEO. ASM, which offers fuelling and ground handling services to operators, is looking to launch the new entity by November. “We already hired people (for the new firm) and are in discussions with several aircraft owners to manage their fleets,” said Vito Gomes, CEO of ASM.

The company, which also has a charter arm, is looking to operate 7-10 shuttle flights a day during the World Cup. “We are waiting for the slots because Doha airport will not be able to handle that many passengers at one time,” said Gomes.

If the talks go ahead as planned, ASM hopes to offer whole travel packages to fans looking to Doha. It is still in the ‘evaluation’ phase and the pricing will depend on fuel prices and the costs involved per flight, said Gomes. For ASM, which provides refueling services to airlines in different locations, volatile fuel prices add to the company’s risk element, especially since the pandemic has left several carriers in a bad shape.

“We may give them credit and monitor them or ask for a bank guarantee – we always do a risk analysis,” said Gomes. “Things are very cloudy in this type of business and sometimes we can lose.”

The rising activity from private operators shows that Dubai’s aviation sector is back on the growth trajectory. “The set-up of aircraft management and MRO facilities charter jet firms and the increasing demand for consulting services in these fields are positive signs for Dubai’s strong rebound as a global aviation hub,” said Linus Bauer, MD, Bauer Aviation Advisory.

Supply chain issues

Global supply chain disruptions were making it harder for corporate plane manufacturers to meet demand for parts. ExecuJet, which sources most of its products from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), was able to bounce back rather quickly. “We are about 90-95 per cent back to normal – the OEMs and their suppliers have caught up now,” said Nick Weber. “We are still seeing delays, but there has been a vast improvement over the last six months,” he added.