Empire Aviation tried to be a little bit different when it entered Dubai’s private aviation market in 2007. Rather than buying jets and hiring them out to high net worth individuals, the team that had earlier founded and sold Elite Jets decided to take an asset management approach. This would allow individuals and companies that wanted to buy private jets to then hand over the management and operation of those jets to a specialist company.
“We go out and help the owner acquire the plane, inspect it and do the induction into the UAE. Then, we operate and manage it on the owner’s behalf,” explains Paras Dhamecha, executive director, Empire Aviation Group.
“Once they own the airplane, it should be as easy as picking up the phone and saying ‘we want to go from here to there’, and we take care of the rest.”
The three pillars of Empire Aviation’s business are aircraft sales & acquisition, asset management and charter. Prior to a person even owning a plane, Empire Aviation can help in terms of understanding the client’s requirements, identifying a suitable model and acquiring it for them.
Dhamecha says that since the recession, there have been fantastic opportunities to acquire new planes.
“It hasn’t been necessary to go out and buy brand new planes because there has been an excess on the market. We’ve been able to identify used planes and save people a lot of money.”
Once a private jet is under the management of Empire Aviation, the company has pretty much every function needed to operate a plane in house, except maintenance. That is sub-contracted to other companies, though the process is again managed by Empire.
At Empire’s HQ in Dubai, the company runs a 24x7 operations and dispatch centre that has eight licensed dispatchers at any given time. A maintenance control centre also runs 24x7, monitoring and tracking the status of all planes under the company’s management. Pilots and flight attendants are employed directly by Empire Aviation and are ready to fly at any time.
“All the functions required to operate the plane are hired and in house with Empire Aviation,” says Dhamecha.
Once a plane is under the management of Empire Aviation, the owner should simply be able to tell the company when they need it and the company takes care of the rest.
As an added value for customers, Empire Aviation also offers to charter the planes on the owner’s behalf. This means that when a plane is idle, the company can arrange for other people to use it for a fee.
Although this can subsidise the cost of owning a plane, not all of Empire’s customers have chosen to make their planes available for use by others.
“They have a need for themselves and a need for their companies and that’s what they’ve bought these jets for. They haven’t thought about making this a business,” explains Dhamecha.
The company now has more than 20 planes, of various types, under management in Dubai. It has managed to increase revenue and net profit every year since its inception, despite the financial meltdown of 2008. The executive director attributes this to the profile and financial stability of the company’s clients. “High net worth individuals are not going to change their lifestyle, although there were definitely people who overstretched themselves,” Dhamecha says.
“We have very solid clients so we have fortunately not been in that position [of default] with our customers.” Some customers have sold planes on, but have then re-entered the market after seeing a buying opportunity.
Another thing that has aided the company has been the avoidance of a price war amongst private aviation companies based inDubai.
“I think all of the operators here pretty much complement each other and work in their own niche, so there isn’t a fierce price competition and I don’t think it’s in anybody’s interest. To maintain a quality service, you need to be at a certain price point,” says Dhamecha.