Middle Eastern business aviation activity is pretty resilient, say many in the industry, but while some try to talk the market up, others working at the sharp end cast a relatively gloomy picture and await an upturn in activity.

Business aviation activity is patchy across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), according to Ali Alnaqbi, chairman of the Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA). But in August there was a significant pickup that was linked to the worsening situation in Yemen. “Government departments were chartering left, right and center so that ministers could attend meetings all over the region. So, although private flying numbers were down, government charters largely compensated for the shortfall and the numbers were acceptable to us,” says Alnaqbi.

There are around 620 business aircraft across the 23 MENA countries. Bahrain and Kuwait movements were down, but there were a sustained number of movements in the UAE. Aircraft movements in Egypt have increased significantly, while Lebanon has seen fluctuations.

“There was some movement in Baghdad, but operators have been warned off operating into potential war zones by various national authorities,” says Alnaqbi.

Some fixed-base operators (FBOs) are less optimistic. Mike Berry, VP of ExecuJet Middle East (Stand 1800), says “The outlook from general aviation operators [in the Middle East] is not a rosy picture. We still see opportunities for growth, but the way the market is right now we are not going to see a dramatic increase in business activity over the next year. I believe this is a generally held view by everyone in the business aviation industry at the moment.” ExecuJet Middle East has an FBO and MRO (maintenance) operation at Dubai International Airport, and a handling operation at Dubai World Central.

Berry, among others, reckons the factors driving this downturn include the decline of the Russian ruble, the dramatic drop in oil revenues and continued worries over the Chinese economy. “We’re pretty much operating at the same activity levels that we achieved last year, and in some respects we’re about 10% down on figures we achieved two years ago in terms of FBO movements.

“There’s just not as much traffic coming through Dubai as there was two years back. I think this is generally felt by all the operators, aircraft charter and FBOs; we know that numbers are down.” But not everything is doom and gloom, he says, referring to his company’s managed aircraft fleet, which continues to grow.

Another Middle Eastern company executive claimed to have had slight seasonal deviations over the last two years but notes that 2016 looks tough, with the Russia/Ukraine situation in particular having a definite impact on business.