Last updated: 20 November, 2013

In Dubai, private jets and VIP helicopters fly high

Away from the glare of the media where airlines sign multi-billion-dollar contracts, makers of private helicopters and jets for VIPs are busy doing deals at the Dubai airshow and targeting a vibrant Middle East market.

The aerospace companies making and selling these aircraft for the rich, the powerful and for special services, say that customers’ requirements are generally the same: security, robust construction, and performance.

In the next coming 10 years, “we hope to double our orders in the Middle East where we have strong work and which attracts more and more competitors in the field of business aviation,” said Eric Trappier, chief executive of French group of Dassault Aviation.

Seated comfortably in his company’s Falcon 7X exhibited at the airshow, he has come to promote Dassault’s new 5X business jets, the latest addition to the group’s range, and which will enter service in 2017.

The 5X model which was unveiled in Las Vegas on October 21 at a list price of about $45 million, had received a warm welcome in the Middle East region mainly due to its large cabin, range, and technical performance, he said.

On Tuesday, Brazilian Embraer Executive Jets announced the signing of a purchase agreement at the airshow for an ultra-large Lineage 1000 to Jordan-based Arab Wings.

Business aviation is “rapidly growing” in the Middle East, says Trappier, because of demand from customers who are looking for flexibility.

“They feel that with a business jet, you can go fast, you can land on any track, and it is a real tool for developing their society,” he said.

“The more societies in the region develop, the more business aviation will develop.”

A few hundred metres away, stands a Beechcraft King Air 350i propeller jet.

Richard Emery of Beechcraft, the American company’s president of sales for Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East and Africa, says this region has always been a “key market” for business aviation and its growth will benefit all manufacturers.

With a market share of 69 percent for the company’s turboprop products in the Middle East and 88 percent in North Africa, “we do see this is a very strategic market for us and we expect growth over the next five years”, Emery said.

He explained that 80 percent of his group’s business in the Middle East currently concerns aircraft for “special missions,” such as medical evacuation, against 20 percent for VIP (Very Important Person) aviation.

Aircraft like ‘flying apartments’

At European helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter, there is also interest in business jets for offshore missions, search and rescue.

And with Eurocopter’s EC175, equipped to carry up to 10 people in its business version and seven in its VIP version, “the potential in this area in actually very big,” says Christine Fraud, the marketing manager for corporate and private applications at the European group.

The helicopter is also increasingly used as an air taxi to complement private jets when trying to reach a crowded area to prevent “wasting the time gained by taking a business jet,” she said.

In the Middle East, “one can also imagine the idea of tourism aviation with the possibility of being able to fly over remote areas,” she added.

Emery said: “The customers here are sophisticated buyers … They understand the product, they know what they want, (and) they ask for a number of different platforms which we could provide.”

Comfort is also a must.

“The market has evolved with aircrafts that have changed in size. We are more and more carrying flying apartments,” says aircraft interior designer Jacques Pierrejean.

The Frenchman’s latest was designing the interior of an Airbus Corporate Jet (ACJ) for Emirates, which has launched its VIP charter flights.

At the front of the jet, there is a large living room while at the back there are mini-suites and a shower — a unique concept in private transport.

“In the Middle East, customers like to find what they have in their own homes (aboard a jet) — a bed, a shower, and space,” says the designer. “This is why we are moving towards the development of large aircrafts.”

Style has also evolved with time. “We used to design interiors with an oriental, American or European style. Now, the style is more internationalised” with more basic colours and uncluttered interiors, he said. “It is more difficult to sell a highly personalised device.”