A group of 13 Indians who recently flew back via private jet
The COVID-19 created a situation where many got an opportunity to try out private jets for the first time. Some may stay on for more. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: Even with commercial flights resuming in phases, private jet operators in the UAE and Gulf are bullish about future demand. More so as they have been able to bring on board a newer set of clientele by making rates slightly more accessible.

A one-way trip from Dubai to London on a private jet will on average cost Dh165,000 ($45,000). When this amount is split between 10 passengers, which is the typical capacity of a midsize jet, that’s around Dh16,500 per head.

A business class seat on a London-bound Emirates flight can cost more than Dh12,000.

“When people actually get the numbers and quote - two hours in a business jet as opposed to going into commercial airline and going through a commercial terminal, you'll find out it's only marginally more expensive,” said Mike Berry, Managing Director of Execujet Middle East, which manages aircraft on behalf of owners.

“That's why it is finally attracting new customers – understanding that you know what, it's not all that expensive to fly.”

A view from inside a recent private jet repatriation flight
Depending on the number of passengers and aircraft type, splitting the costs will bring them to levels on offer in business- and first class. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Soaring demand

The pandemic set off a surge in demand for private jets, as a means to ferry the stranded from all parts of the world. It was also this sheer need that helped private jet operators to connect with those slightly more removed than the super-rich clientele.

To keep this momentum, these operators want to ensure their services can still be called upon by at least some of the newly created users.

Several industry participants believe that rates need to be brought down further. One of them is regional business aviation industry stalwart, Ali Ahmed Alnaqbi.

“The charter in our area has been on the high end, and we have been wanting to bring it down,” said Alnaqbi, who is Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Business Aviation Association (MEBAA).

To that end, Alnaqbi has been urging operators in the region to bring in smaller aircraft for their fleets. Light jets like Embraer Phenom 100 and Eclipse 500 are cost-effective to operate and ideal for short-distance travel, while the heavier Dassault Falcon 7X and Bombardier Global 6000 are like “hotels in the sky” with lavishly appointed interiors and ultra-uber amenities.

Alnaqbi wants more of the former above Middle Eastern skies. “If you're going to go, let's say from here to Riyadh, which is less than two hours, you don't have to go with a wide-body aircraft,” he said.

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UAE and Gulf business jet operators are intent on making this type of aircraft accessible to many. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Health as priority

The pandemic has brought health concerns to the forefront and private jet flying offers a safer environment, and where it is considerably easier to follow social distancing norms. “The new passengers are coming from the first- and business classes – they care about their safety from a health point of view,” said Alnaqbi,

“A lot of people could afford to travel business jets in the past, but they elected to go commercial for financial reasons. It does not matter anymore because health has become the priority.”

Aiming higher

Bombardier, one of the world’s largest business jet manufacturers, sees private travel in the Middle East increasing further.

“Despite the extraordinary circumstances related to the pandemic, we are seeing some encouraging trends with regards to private aviation in the longer term,” said a spokesperson. “Business jet traffic, for example, is recovering at a much faster rate than commercial.

“We’ve also seen limited order cancellations, and new interest in private air travel is generating increased attention from a sales perspective – the long-range Global family of business jets have been particularly resilient.”

Full recovery

Execujet sees demand completely returning in 2021, with continued implementation of COVID-19 measures. “What I think we'll see is a new norm of procedures being adopted, prior to the flight and after,” said Berry.

“This includes temperature testing, regular sanitization, and social distancing. Hopefully, by the end of 2021, everything resumes almost in line levels with what we saw in 2019 and pre-COVID-19.

“The business traffic will resume and the typical UAE traffic summer breaks - going to destinations in Europe, North America - that will resume again next year.”

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Bombardier reckons demand for business jets has been resilient enough through the pandemic. It's Global range of jets continues to pick up clients. Image Credit: Reuters