Dubai-based Hadid International Services (Booth A46) has bid for the Oman Airports Management Co. FBO Tender at Muscat International Airport and also inked agreements the Malaysia and Zimbabwe governments to provide services for medical tourism and aviation, respectively.
“We have participated in the FBO tender for Muscat and Salalah, which was released early this year,” commercial director Issa Zuriqi told AIN. “We hope to win it and be a part of Oman’s development. They didn’t say when an announcement would be made, but I think it will come soon. We want to increase investment in the region, whether in the wider Middle East or in the Gulf Cooperation Council.”
Hadid is working on two different projects for the governments of Malaysia and Zimbabwe. “Malaysia is an agreement we signed with the healthcare industry there to assist in bringing in worldwide medical tourism. That plan is now in action. We are assisting them and promoting packages," he said. "They have more than 60 hospitals offering services, and we are also promoting general aviation to travelers on private jets—or in business class.”
Despite inflationary pressures, Dubai business is improving, and the emirate is keen to put Covid-19 behind it. “The Covid story has been that scheduled airlines had so many problems that many people, instead of flying first or business class, for example, opted for business aviation,” Zuriqi said.
This was especially true for India, where travel lockdowns were very restrictive, with many people turning to business aviation as the only available means of flying in some situations. “We expected to see a reversal of the trend towards business aviation as restrictions were lifted, but many first-time private jet users appear to have become permanent converts,” he noted.
Zuriqi expects Dubai to become the predominant regional center, bolstered by a successful Expo 2020 event, which ended March 31. “Dubai has become everybody’s favorite place. It sees itself as a hub and is acting as one. Everyone wants to come to Dubai. Everyone sees Dubai as the place where they can find refuge, a place where they can easily do business, in comfort, without the risks of political change, inclement weather, or health problems. I have been in Dubai for the last 20 years, and I have only seen it move in one direction.”
He noted that Saudi Arabia had reopened and that Covid prevention measures had been suspended. He said NasJet and Sky Prime were the major business aviation players in the kingdom.
“We have partners in Saudi Arabia, [Bahrain-based] Wallan Aviation, who are busy,” he said. “If there are opportunities in Saudi Arabia, we will be there. I’m planning a visit to Jeddah and Riyadh. We want to see what’s going on. We want to investigate the opportunities and find out how we can play a role. We like Saudi Arabia and there’s a lot of potential there, whether inbound or outbound. There’s a lot to be taken care of. Neom Airport and the city are promising. We want to go in and discover. Saudi Arabia is always full of surprises.”
Zuriqi said the reverberations of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were still being felt in Dubai but added that Russia had in no way closed its airspace to private jets operating from the UAE. “If you are in Dubai, you can fly to Moscow,” he said. “We have Russian clients, but I don’t yet have information on whether their number has increased or decreased.”
He said criticism of the UAE after a money-laundering watchdog, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), put the country on its so-called ‘gray list’ in March is unfair. “That’s a double standard. Perhaps the UAE is open to the entire world, but the authorities don’t do anything that is not in line with global ethics or laws.”
However, sanctions on certain Russian individuals are being felt in the local market. Preowned aircraft buyers have become stricter and want to know if a seller is Russian, as that can invalidate a deal. “Some Russians want to sell aircraft,” Zuriqi said. “The restrictions do not allow them to move ahead with these transactions. Buyers are being careful, and implementing extra ‘know your customer’ due diligence.”
The focus of the UAE remained on maintaining an evenhanded stance. “[Emiratis] don’t want to do any harm to people or business inside the country,” he said. “It’s a country that accommodates all types of nationalities and businesses. They have been playing a very positive role in relation to Russians and Ukrainians. They’re trying to be mediators. They have to play a diplomatic role.”
He said that coming down hard on all Russians because of the transgressions of a few oligarchs was not the right way to proceed, and the consensus emerging in the industry was that each individual needed to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. “You cannot impose restrictions or sanctions on people just because they are Russian,” he said. “These are normal businesspeople. That’s how we see it. We have many Ukrainian and Russian friends and clients. We have to be neutral.”
Zuriqi sees regional charter as strong, with ExecuJet, Empire Aviation, Royal Jet, Qatar Executive, and Jet Aviation all playing important roles. “There is a big fleet if you put them all together,” he said. “VistaJet is doing well, and has just done the Air Hamburg deal.” He is optimistic that the outlook for the region is promising. “Business is growing in the region, or at least in the UAE. We will see lots of changes in the next couple of years,” Zuriqi concluded.