Why Private Jet Travel is Taking Off in the Middle East

By Isabel Tapp, Founder of Luxury Communications Council, GCC Chapter

Despite economic headwinds and recessions looming in Europe, demand for private jets in the Middle East and Africa is taking off. Buoyed by Expo 2020 and the World Cup in Qatar, the private aviation sector grew by 25% in 2022 year-on-year according to the Middle East & North Africa Business Aviation Association. And it’s set to grow even more.

Why are more and more travellers turning to private jet flights? There are a couple of reasons. The first was spurred on by Covid. During the pandemic, those who previously travelled First and Business Class turned to private jets instead of flying commercial, both from an availability point of view as well as from a personal safety; the fear of being stuck on a commercial aircraft for long hours, surrounded by dozens or even hundreds of people was no longer an attractive option.

Mega international events such as Expo 2020 and the FIFA World Cup also drove demand for transport. While the UAE and Qatar scheduled shuttle flights to fly fans to and from matches between the two countries, the event presented an opportunity for private jet companies to also offer their services. This led to an increase of registration requests for private aircrafts in the UAE.

Then there are the millionaires. The UAE attracts many UHNW individuals and their families, with an estimated 4,000 individuals to have moved to the country in 2022. Already home to some 67,000 millionaires, the UAE is a magnet for the mega-rich and with it comes the need for sprawling villas, luxury goods and of course private travel.

Once you’ve flown on a private jet, there’s no going back
Between finding the right flight, waiting around at the airport and sharing a cabin with strangers, once people experience the comforts of private jet travel, there’s no turning back. For high-level executives, time is money and flying private allows them to be much more efficient, fast-tracking immigration and tailoring their itinerary exactly to their needs.  For C-Suite Executives travelling from the USA or Northern Europe to the GCC on business, the trend is to fly commercial to Dubai, then charter a private jet to fly around the GCC countries completing meetings in all the key GCC States in a matter of 2 -3 days.

In the last year, a range of companies launched their services from the Middle East. In July, the self-proclaimed ‘Uber for private jets’, Mirai Flights, expanded into the region by inking deals with three locally based charters. Premium private jet provider, Flexjet, also landed in the Middle East. Following the successful launch of its European operations, the US-based company now provides its services across the GCC.  

The next biggest hurdle for the private jet industry will be addressing sustainability concerns. Private planes can be up to 14 times more polluting, per passenger, than commercial planes.  Some companies are leaning into sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), but SAF is still in its infancy and in low supply. The industry is still building facilities to scale up production because there’s simply not enough to go around at this point.  Although Shell has a goal to produce two million tonnes of SAF by 2025, given the worldwide jet fuel demand sitting at 330 million tonnes in 2019, there’s a long way to go.