Belgium-based FlyingGroup is moving to the UAE, opening their first Middle East of office at Dubai South. Altitudes spoke to Mark Hardman, Managing Director, FlyingGroup Middle East, about the new venture and why the company has chosen to expand outside of Europe.
By Jill Stockbridge
Mark Hardman is a well- recognised figure in Middle Eastern business aviation. Formerly with ExecuJet in the UAE, he has also worked for Bombardier in the UK and most recently was Director General Aviation with Dubai South. He is now responsible for introducing the European company Flying Group into the region, in his new position as managing director. He spoke to Altitudes about the venture.
Could you explain a little about the company’s history in Europe, how it started and developed and where it is now?
FlyingGroup was founded by Bernard van Milders in 1995. Initially, it started as a management company for fractional ownership of business jets, then extended its services to air-charter brokerage and quickly evolved into one of the largest private jet charter companies in Benelux. Since 1997, the company has offered aircraft management services, handling services at its FBO and Part 145 maintenance in Antwerp, Belgium.
Currently FlyingGroup operates and maintains around 45 aircraft worldwide. Its headquarters is in Antwerp, but the group has expanded over the years to encompass Luxembourg, France, the Netherlands and more recently to Malta, Switzerland and now the UAE.
You have had a successful business structure in Europe. Do you plan to offer the same services in the Middle East?
In many ways the answer is yes, especially in terms of cost efficiency, safety, flexibility and customer centric solutions. FlyingGroup is all about creating aviation solutions that suit our client’s needs, rather than the traditional ‘one product suits all’ approach. These customer focused solutions are possible within our structure as we work with local Key Account Managers.
Our cost efficiency is achieved by very strict cost control, careful budgeting of the aircraft operation and industry leading initiatives.
When do you plan to set up your of ces and apply for your AOC?
We are pleased to report that our regional office is already set up at Dubai South. This was achieved in record time with the support of Dubai South’s Business Centre and the DCAA.
The FlyingGroup companies (Flying Service, Flying Group and Hyperion Aviation) already offer a range of EASA Private and Commercial Operating options, as well as Bermuda (VP), Araba (P4), IOM, (M) and San Marino (T7), America (N) permits and approvals. In phase one, we intend to offer these registries across the Middle East, CIS, India and Africa, providing flexible and efficient bespoke solutions that are totally customer orientated.
Why have you chosen to set up in Dubai South?
Dubai South was a natural choice to start our Middle East operations, given Dubai’s geographical location and the industry leading aviation ecosystem Dubai South has established at DWC. Furthermore we strongly believe that DWC is the future of business aviation in Dubai, with 65% of FBO movements already operating from the new airport.
Why are you opening here now, when many companies are consolidating in key markets, rather than expanding?
FlyingGroup is one of the few aircraft management companies that continues to expand organically. The Middle East has long been on our radar and we are delighted to be executing that vision now. A number of new and existing business jet owners have already expressed interest in our services.
Where do you see most of your business coming from geographically?
Saudi Arabia is a very interesting market, given a number of changes in the Kingdom including the implementation of GACAR Safety Regulations. We also see great opportunity across the region, as FlyingGroup guarantees that we can cut both fixed and variable costs, when compared to traditional aircraft management models.
Who do you consider your main competitors in this market?
As we know in this business, today’s competitor is tomorrow’s customer or partner. Also a number of our competitors also offer other services, such as maintenance and FBO, so we very much plan to co-exist. Moreover our focus will be on new business in particular, which supports the aviation eco-system as a whole.
“OUR FOCUS WILL BE ON NEW BUSINESS IN PARTICULAR, WHICH SUPPORTS THE AVIATION ECO-SYSTEM AS A WHOLE.”
What will you do differently from the companies that are currently operating here to win the business of aircraft owners and charterers?
Our focus will be on fully supported customer solutions, where our service is tailored to precisely fit the client’s needs. In addition to that, our unique ‘no glitch’ policy and procedures make our service second to none. Moreover, FlyingGroup excels in the new business environment where cost control and reduction are key.
Will you own any aircraft here for charter, or will you just offer the locally managed aircraft?
FlyingGroup Middle East does not expect to own aircraft at this time. However, we do own a number of aircraft in Europe and offer both fractional and card services. Moreover, in terms of aircraft management, we are in final discussions with aircraft owners.
Will you be looking for local partners in the region? Absolutely. We are already delighted to partner with Jetex for Trip Planning and FBO Services at DWC. The feedback from our European and CIS clients on the VIP Terminal at DWC has been exceptional.