CLEAR GOALS

Sharjah 2020 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

Gama Aviation controls a sizeable portion of the regional business aviation services sector, aiming to grab a bigger share of the Saudi market and attract clients from East Asia, Europe, and the US.

Richard Lineveldt
BIOGRAPHY
Richard Lineveldt has over 16 years’ experience in the aviation industry. He started his career as a flight dispatcher at a busy air ambulance operation in South Africa. His first venture into the Middle East was to manage the aviation services and dispatch department for Execujet Middle East. He joined Gama Aviation in 2008 to establish the operations department and help guide its air operating certificate application process. His contribution has been integral for Gama Aviation’s growth and service offering in the region, which now includes aircraft management, charter, VIP passenger and aircraft handling, and maintenance services at Sharjah International Airport.

Gama Aviation has been operating in Sharjah since 2008. What is your outlook for the future of the private aviation industry?

We are part of the global group of Gama Aviation companies. We operate in excess of 230 aircraft and have been in the UAE since 2008, operating out of Sharjah from the beginning. The current facility, Gama's VIP terminal at Sharjah Airport, opened in 2014. We have had a great opportunity to work with the Department of Civil Aviation and Sharjah Airport Authority to stimulate business growth at Sharjah Airport, specifically in the business aviation services sector. We manage aircraft, charter them for third-party clients, provide maintenance for our own and visiting aircraft, and handle all the VIPs who use Sharjah as their gateway to Dubai and the Northern Emirates. We have proven that Sharjah's unique location and ease of use make it a popular hub for private jets. We hope to promote more awareness about Sharjah and the great benefits it provides in terms of its openness to do business and grow. We are extremely aligned in terms of how we position ourselves from a pricing point of view. We have shared objectives in terms of creating value for visitors to the Emirate. We have done a good job of getting regional clients to use Sharjah, though our aim is to get visitors from East Asia, Europe, and the US to understand what Sharjah all is about.

What is the status of your Business Aviation Center project, and what are some of your key recent developments?

We came to an agreement regarding the long-term lease and exclusive arrangement with the Airport Authority, went on to do feasibility studies, and received internal approval to go ahead with the project. We have made excellent progress, though we are perhaps slightly behind. This is not a bad thing, as it has allowed us to ensure we are solid internally. In terms of other developments, we continue to see strong growth in the FBO and maintenance activities segments, the latter being our best performer in 2018. There are about 300 private jets in the region, and Saudi Arabia controls 35% of that market. The idea is to leverage the scale we can achieve in Saudi Arabia to stimulate aircraft maintenance in Sharjah because there are no business jet maintenance facilities in Saudi.

Is it easy to find the talent in Sharjah and the UAE?

Finding the right talent has always been and will remain a significant problem for us. This issue is present across the Middle East where the majority of experienced aircraft engineers are expatriates. Excellent strides have been made in terms of investments in universities and training facilities in the region but due to international regulatory issues, it is not easy. We do invest in training people; our strategy is to employ talented people and up-skill them.

Where do Gama Aviation's clients come from?

From a management point of view, our clients are generally GCC nationals and corporates. In terms of maintenance, our clients are extremely varied, though definitely with a bias toward the GCC. Saudi Arabia is a large market of ours.

How do you plan to expand your client base?

We are building a large hanger, and we will need more aircraft to fill it up. Our aim is to create a huge temperature-controlled hanger facility and encourage clients to store aircraft in our hanger. Demand for parking spaces is greater than the hangar space available at Sharjah Airport. We will place our current clients into our new hanger and encourage others from the UAE and the GCC to use it. All the hangers in Dubai are operating at full capacity, and there is no business jet hanger available in Saudi Arabia. Gama Aviation will cash in on that opportunity and then scale up the range of its services.