Business aviation in the Gulf States is picking up again after the blitzkrieg it suffered during the world financial crisis. Other neighboring Arab nations that were better protected from the financial draught continued to grow throughout the largely Western-based crisis.

Mike Berry, managing director of Dubai-based ExecuJet Middle East, says, “There are positive trends in the region and since January we’ve seen good signs in our charter and maintenance business.”

The company recently became an Embraer Legacy Authorized Service Center, making it the only base maintenance operation for the Legacy 600/650 in the Middle East. A couple of Phenoms have been delivered into the region and ExecuJet is tooling-up to gain Embraer approvals for support. On Lineage 1000 maintenance, Berry says, “It depends on judging the right time to commit investment into tooling and engineering capabilities. If we could capture some of these aircraft under management it would certainly make our decision a lot easier.”

Michael Rücker, SVP and general manager of Jet Aviation’s Dubai International Airport facility, says that “Business is picking up. It stabilized last year and we are seeing a lot of traffic through our Dubai FBO and MRO. Our first quarter movements show a 16% increase over the same period in 2010. We’ve also seen an increase of more than 50% ‘return to service’ (aircraft released after maintenance) through our MRO compared to same period 2010. This covers aircraft on line maintenance, AOG, and for a drop-ins, not to mention those on regular maintenance.”

Abu Dhabi Executive Airport at Al Bateen is just over an hour away by road. There, newly installed general manager Steve Jones is also optimistic. He reports real growth in movements at this 50-year-old former military airport, which has almost completed its switchover to becoming the first dedicated business aviation facility in the Middle East.

“The airport’s FBO’s branded name will be announced here at EBACE,” Jones told ShowNews. “To be clear, it’s a new FBO operated by us. Another one or two charter companies are also interested in opening here.” He also hinted that the 2012 Middle East Business Aviation show could be held at Al Bateen instead of at Dubai International Airport. “If Abu Dhabi chooses to host MEBA it will have a fundamental effect on what happens on the ground here and a catalyst for a number of new projects including hotels, car parks etc.”

Jet Aviation’s Rücker says that his company “will definitely be the first MRO provider at Al Bateen, and if all goes well we’ll open in the second semester this year.” Jet is currently in talks with Al Bateen’s owners Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC). “If we go there we will field a small core team ready to provide the service. Backup will be provided by engineers from our Dubai MRO. A hangar is being prepared by ADAC at the moment. We plan to offer at least line maintenance for those lines that we support at our Dubai International Airport MRO.”

Al Bateen’s business aircraft movements increased by 18% in the first quarter, versus the same period last year. ADAC has already invested $50 million in turning the airfield into a state-of-the-art business airport, with an impressive VVIP passenger terminal. A further $100 million has been committed to new hangars, ramp enhancements, utilities and runway work.

Al Bateen recorded 15 new visiting aircraft operators in March 2011, whilst based operators continue to take delivery of new aircraft. In March, Al Jaber Aviation added a fifth aircraft, a Lineage 1000, to its fleet, while Falcon Aviation Services, the largest and longest established based operator there, recorded over 8% growth versus the same period in 2010.

Business jet movements there totaled 800-900 in 1Q 2011, against 600-700 for the same period in 2010. Part of the reason, Jones explains, is that the airport is becoming better known internationally. “We’re also seeing a real mix of traffic, and its not all coming from a particular area. We have ease of access and have improved the handling here. Customers are also aware of the congestion at Dubai International and the problem with getting slots. All this has all fed through into the market. The icing on the cake here is that the airport area is to become a designated Free Zone in around 12 months time. This means that foreign companies are free of constraints by not having to have local partners owning a controlling interest.”