Private jet business booms as unrest sweeps Mideast
By Praveen Menon
DUBAI (Reuters) - Private jets, once playthings of the rich, have become a necessity for travelers in the restive Middle East and North Africa where commercial airlines have scaled back flights. Business is booming.
Banned by many firms as an extravagance after the global downturn, jets -- some with gold-plated interiors, bedrooms and bathrooms -- are vital for businessmen, diplomats, politicians and families wanting quick, discrete exits from trouble spots.
Airspace over the world's No. 1 oil exporting region is buzzing, with passengers doling out as much as $18,000 for an hour-long flight on an 18-seater, after protests toppled rulers in Tunisia and Egypt this year and the unrest spread to Gulf states including Bahrain, Yemen, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
"During the peak of the Egypt unrest, we were flooded with calls," said Shane O'Hare, president and chief executive of Royal Jet, based in Abu Dhabi.
"We had corporate customers, individuals, families, diplomats and others calling for our service," he said.
The company got about 20 calls a day, with up to seven trips every couple of days compared to just two flights normally in the same period in the last two years.
"People were desperate to leave," Paras Dhamecha, executive director of Dubai-based operator Empire Aviation Group, said of Egypt where his firm ran six to seven flights a week transporting groups and large families.
"The crisis is very unfortunate, but it has boosted business for us," said Mark J. Pierotti, chief operating officer of Al Jaber Aviation, an Abu Dhabi-based premium charter and business jets service. "We are not back to the levels we saw in 2007, but it seems like we can get there soon." Continued...