An Abu Dhabi charter aviation company hopes to tap potential demand for private air travel from a new wave of corporate and leisure customers in the region, with its better value single-engine turboprop executive aircraft.
GI Aviation will initially operate a Pilatus PC-12NG out of Al Bateen Executive Airport after being granted its certification by the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority. It will take delivery of a second PC-12NG next month but the aircraft’s base of operations has not yet been confirmed, although Dubai World Central is a potential hub, said GI Aviation’s general manager, Marios Belidis.
“We are operational since [on Tuesday] and we are providing this region with an aircraft that can be chartered at around 30 per cent less than a small or mid-size jet,” Mr Belidis, who previously ran ground operations at Al Bateen, said at the MEBAA show in Dubai on Tuesday.
The eight-seat PC-12NG can take off and land on short runways, turf or gravel airstrips and fly up to four hours with a range of 2,000 kilometres.
The year-long process to obtain a GCAA license was as rigorous for the small aircraft operator as for any large commercial airline, according to David Lawlor, the head of projects and corporate finance at Abu Dhabi private investment company Global Ideas, GI Aviation’s parent.
“We got the licence this week but you have ongoing checks all the time,” he said. “It’s continuing air worthiness management.”
Security assessments for travel will be a high priority and GI Aviation has brought on board experienced professionals such as Yousif Al Hammadi, its director of security and government affairs.
For journeys with a flying time of up two hours, GI Aviation says its service offers a value proposition compared to chartering a similar sized private jet. Flying time will only be about 10 per cent longer and at an optimum six passengers, the PC-12NG’s cabin, designed together with BMW, is as comfortable as a jet’s, according to Mr Belidis.
An estimate from privatejetcharter.ae shows that one way between Abu Dhabi and Doha this month on a Citation Jet 3 costs US$7,144.
GI Aviation is in talks with hotel resorts and airlines in the UAE for potential tie-ups.
Government and corporate customers are also showing interest as executives look for more efficient methods of travel to remote sites and for road shows around the Arabian Gulf and parts of the Middle East and South Asia.
Air ambulance is another key market for growth.
The demand that GI Aviation is targeting, while an innovative approach, faces a challenge in terms of proof of concept. This kind of niche strategy has not been replicated anywhere else with any degree of long-term success, said Saj Ahmad, the chief analyst at StrategicAero Research.
“Not even in remote parts of Africa, where often air transport via propeller aircraft can make a difference either for medics or private business users,” he said.
However, Surf Air has been using similar aircraft to fly passengers up and down the West Coast of the United States since 2013, based on a Netflix-style monthly subscription model. It is now expanding into Europe.