Leading by Royal example

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Shane O’Hare is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Royal Jet, the award winning Abu Dhabi based operator of mostly BBJ and Gulfstream large cabin aircraft. He was brought on board to undertake the flight services provider’s next stage of development. Jo Murray finds out what that means

“Everything we do revolves around the customer,” states O’Hare emphatically. Safety has to be a given in any aircraft operations and then comes services – and these have to be customer-cent ric, he insists.

Of course Royal Jet is synonymous with BBJ operations – owning and operating the largest BBJ fleet in the world. It owns six BBJs, two of which have just emerged from refurbishment. Then there are two owned mid-range Gulfstream 300s and a managed long-range Gulfstream IVSP. Also managed are a Lineage 1000 on behalf of the Al Habtoor Group and a Learjet 60.

“We are very much a global operator,” states O’Hare. This, he explains, has been a major plank of Royal Jets’ strategy. Previously the operator was very UAE-oriented with local dignitaries populating the large part of the company’s customer base. Today, as a consequence of phenomenal growth with O’Hare at the helm, Royal Jet has emerged as an operator that is still highly suitable for moving high level delegations around the world; but today these delegations are less inclined to be local and royal and more likely to have an international flavour about them with corporates and commercial clients filling the order book.

Then there is medevac at which Royal Jet excels. Over 1,000 missions have been successfully completed with the assistance of Royal Jet’s specialist medical flight team of medics. The service is available to any individual, corporate or government entity that has a patient in need of immediate transfer to any regional or international destination by BBJ, Gulfstream, Lineage or Learjet.

To grow the business further, O’Hare has widened Royal Jet’s reach and opened a base in Saudi Arabia where one BBJ is now based. All this adds to Royal Jets’ global reputation for operations in niche markets.

Of course the Middle East market is core to Royal Jet’s strategy. “A key objective is our leading brand status,” says O’Hare. But the Middle East market is still maturing with a lot of new entrants, a lot of optimism and high ambitions for a region with a relatively small fleet but the potential for mass operations. To some extent we are still watching to see who the region’s business aviation leaders will be but Royal Jet has been put firmly at the head of the pack, not least through its status as the World’s Leading Private Jet Charter, the Business Jet Provider of the Year and the Middle East’s Leading Private Jet Charter.

Then there are the Middle East’s neighbouring regions that excite O’Hare. “The Indian sub-continent has long-term potential,” he points out. “And so does Kazakhstan and North Africa.” China, of course, is on everyone’s radar but infrastructure and airspace issues mean China’s business aviation market grows very slowly for now.

But the Middle East itself is where Royal Jet can truly shine and, by providing a high quality service, O’Hare says Royal Jet can lead by example. And this brings us on to the grey market – the rise of which in the Middle East and Russia has become a favourite topic during recession. O’Hare points out that it really is in Saudi where there are concerns about operations outside the regulatory framework. “It creates a risk for customers and owners of aircraft,” he says. “And it has a major impact on price.” He points out that the regulatory authorities are endeavouring to reduce customers’ exposure to the grey market which is partially why Royal Jet was invited to set up a base in Saudi – that is to set an example.

As to the future, O’Hare says: “Any business, to stay alive, has to rigorously question its status quo.”

His Excellency Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, who serves as a Minister in the UAE Federal Cabinet as well as Chairman of Royal Jet, along with the Royal Jet board, have taken up this challenge.

Over the last 12 months, Royal Jet has started a highly successful brokerage operation. The BBJ refurbishment programmes have produced state of the art interiors, the medevac business continues to swell, Royal jet has developed a very sophisticated pricing model and the Abu Dhabi FBO has been the subject of investment. The icing on the cake? A new award as the World’s Leading Private Jet Charter 2010.