Business Aviation Market Intelligence

DC Aviation Al-Futtaim Celebrates Ten Years in the Middle East

DC Aviation Al-Futtaim Celebrates Ten Years in the Middle East

In June 2010 Dubai’s opened the first stage of its sprawling new airport. Officially named Al Maktoum International Airport, but known more colloquially as Dubai World Central, or DWC for short, the airport was originally designed to help alleviate pressure on Dubai International Airport, which at the time was already bursting at the seams thanks to the rapid expansion of the local Emirates Airline. 

The airport itself is built to the south of Dubai and once completed, will cover more than 35,000 acres and will handle up to 260 million passengers annually when it is due to be completed in 2027. 

One of the first stages of the airport’s development would see the majority of business aircraft movements transfer across to the new airport. Local operators, as well as those that had a presence in the region were hesitant, especially given the added distance into the centre of Dubai – DWC is 37km from the centre of Dubai, whereas Dubai International Airport is just 4.6km. Another airport, Sharjah Airport 24km from central Dubai, was also picking up traction for business aviation movements as an alternative to Dubai International Airport. 

One of the first companies to see the potential of DWC was Germany’s DC Aviation. Based in Stuttgart, DC Aviation was already managing an aircraft in Dubai on behalf of a UAE family, so when the opportunity to move into DWC presented itself, the company began making plans to set up a new facility at the airport. 

“At the time, everybody thought we were crazy, because it’s in the middle of nowhere.” says Paul James, Director of Sales/Aircraft Management for the company. “But we were the first to setup a facility at DWC,” 

“To enter the market DC Aviation partnered with Al-Futtaim Group, a UAE-based conglomerate with which operates retail partnerships and owns malls across the Middle East and Africa. The two companies knew each other well, as DC Aviation was already operating an aircraft on behalf of the Al-Futtaim Group.”

“We had been managing the Al-Futtaim family aircraft prior to moving into Dubai, so there was an established relationship there already, so when we expressed an interest in moving into Dubai, they were our natural partner to team up with,” says James. “They have been a really good partner, and they gave us access to areas that we might not have been able to gain access to if we didn’t have a local partner.” 

The joint venture, now named DC Aviation Al-Futtaim, is celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2023, having begun operations at DWC in 2013. Since then, the facility has grown to include an FBO, as well as two hangars with a combined space of 12,500sq feet. Its maintenance capabilities at DWC, which uses an extension of its Stuttgart line station EASA approvals, currently services Bombardier’s Challenger and Global family aircraft, as well as Dassault’s Falcon 7X. 

According to James, 2022 was a great year for the company, although he adds that 2022 was a pretty good year for everybody. Alongside an increase in movements through its FBO, James also says that its hangars are almost running at full capacity. The company also added several new aircraft to its fleet, with more to come in 2023. 

“In terms of growth, 2022 was a fantastic year for us, as has been the case for most people in the industry. Our FBO has seen a 28% increase in business, the hangar has been at almost 98% with 24 guaranteed contracts which has seen it pretty much full all of the time,” says James. “We also added two new aircraft into the fleet last year, including an Airbus and a Falcon 7X, and we just added a Global 7500 in December. We have a Global 6000 coming up, and two more very large aircraft due to join the fleet this year.” 

The Middle East, and Dubai specifically, is well known for being a large cabin aircraft market, which also has one of the highest percentages of corporate airliners in the world. Its perhaps surprising then that one of the DC Aviation Al-Futtaim fleet is a smaller Pilatus PC-12 turboprop. 

Although the aircraft had been in the managed fleet for some time, James says that the owner released it to the charter market during 2022’s World Cup in Qatar, almost as an experiment to see how it would fare against the more established large jet aircraft in the market. 

“We’ve had a PC-12 which had been in the fleet with us for some time, but the owner decided to put it for charter. It’s actually the Middle East’s first propeller-driven charter aircraft, which we debuted during the World Cup.” Says James. “It proved to be a success, so the owner decided to put it on the charter market full time.” 

Dubai’s location makes it the perfect place to capture business from the rest of the region. Although the local airline Emirates touches almost all parts of the globe with sometimes multiple-daily frequencies, the transitory nature of a big portion of its passengers who are just changing planes in Dubai almost hides the fact that Dubai is a major destination itself, especially for visitors from around the region as well as Africa. 

Two of the countries that have seen a lot of activity are Saudi Arabia and India, the former being in growth mode following a 2018 government anti-corruption crackdown that saw as many as 30 business jets handed over to the government in settlement as part of financial agreements.  

“Since the crown Prince took over, he’s got his Vision 2030 where he wants to modernize Saudi Arabia, so we have seen a new impetus for growth. He’s very much modernizing the country, updating the country’s laws and setting up businesses. All of that is driving growth, and people feel confident to go over there and do business,” says James. 

The company also says it is seeing growth in India, with James saying that Indian owners don’t always want to keep their aircraft in the country. “Dubai has been home to many Indian billionaires or very wealthy people, and they don’t necessarily want to keep their aircraft in India, so we are able to provide services to those particular clientele.” 

“To enter the market DC Aviation partnered with Al-Futtaim Group, a UAE-based conglomerate which operates retail partnerships, automotive franchises and owns malls across the Middle East.”

DC Aviation was followed into DWC by many other business aviation companies. In terms of movements DWC has managed to capture most business aircraft, with up to 70% of aircraft choosing to use DWC when visiting Dubai. Despite this, James says that there is no desire to expand its presence at the most, mostly due to other companies expanding their own facilities at the airport. 

So, for the next few years, the company will look at expanding its fleet in the region. At the end of 2022 the company had ten aircraft in its managed fleet in Dubai, which includes nine super-midsize and up jets, and the Pilatus PC-12 turboprop.  

“Aircraft management is always the priority because that feeds into the FBO side, the maintenance and the hangar parking, so I would say that aircraft management is the priority,” says James.  

“At the end of the day, we are a 360-degree management company, providing Ground Handling Services, Aircraft Maintenance and any other fields required to look after our client’s assets and individual needs,” he added.