Despite gathering pessimism over the global economic outlook, UAE-based Hadid International Services believes Middle East economies are well placed to power forward post-Covid. “The economy in the region is booming,” commercial director Issa Zuriqi told AIN. “I am doubtful there will be a recession in the UAE, and if there is it will bounce back as strongly as it always has in the past.”
Regional investments in the food industry, technology, and real estate were gathering pace. “The Gulfood Expo [in February] saw 120,000 visitors—that’s major,” he said. “The food industry, not just in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but in other emirates, is booming. These are the three sectors I see doing well besides aviation.”
Zuriqi doesn't view the specter of rising inflation and interest rates as dangerous. “There are some strong economic tailwinds, at least in the short to mid-term, with additional business expected from the Qatar World Cup and new visa reforms being introduced. Even U.S. rate hikes can be viewed in a positive light as they benefit lenders in the region. We are optimistic in general because we see lots of business—and more than before Covid.”
Hadid measures progress by aircraft movements and the number of trip requests compared to before Covid or to previous months. “I’m not talking about just in Dubai, but globally they have increased,” he said. “Businessmen are getting back to normal again or doing even better. If we are talking about general aviation or commercial, it’s crazy. Airlines are reactivating their routes.”
The company employs around 200 people and has a global footprint. “We have operations offices here in Dubai. We have operations in Pakistan, India, and Turkey. In the U.S., we have offices in Fort Lauderdale and Houston,” Zuriqi noted.
It also has offices in Malaysia and England; a presence in Algeria, Mali, Chad, and Niger; FBOs in Riviera, Italy, and Karachi, Pakistan; and supervisors in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and—for the World Cup Finals—Qatar. Due to the Ukraine conflict, its Moscow office is closed for the time being.
“All over the world, we have offices and we have our own staff in airports,” he said.
“We have been in the market for the last 40 years, as the parent or grandparent of flight support companies in the region—I don’t want to say in the world; we have Universal, and other big companies in the U.S. and in Europe—and we are responsible to operators for what we do,” Zuriqi said. “We promise that we will maintain our stability and creditworthiness with our clients and suppliers.”
According to Zuriqi, there is no business aviation lull taking place in Saudi Arabia. “I don’t see it as slow,” he said. “In my view, business there is going really well.
“In general, the Saudis are marketing the country internationally and they want people to come in. They want to compete with Dubai in a positive way. They claim that what Dubai has done over the last 10 years, they will be able to do over the next two.”
He said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reforms as prime minister had played well at home. “Politically, he has power. As [King Salman’s heir], his actions are welcomed by all Saudis. He’s bringing in more business. The country is open to visitors of all types. Even women can fly in, whereas before it was difficult. Today, the openness at restaurants in Riyadh or Jeddah makes you think you are in Dubai.”
In Dubai, Zuriqi explained that general aviation movements are split 70/30 between Al Maktoum International (OMDW) and Dubai International (OMDB). Hadid uses three main FBOs in Dubai: ExecuJet, Jet Aviation, and DC Aviation-Al Futtaim. “Those are our main suppliers,” he said.
“OMDB is busy with commercial, and there is no place for business aircraft. The ExecuJet MRO hangar is packed. Businessmen still want to come to OMDB and will remain here. The Jet Aviation and ExecuJet FBOs at OMDB are still running. Giving up on OMDB is not easy. It is the heart of Dubai. I would love to see it become a business aviation-only airport one day,” he said.
In Oman, Zuriqi said the Muscat FBO tender has been postponed, despite reports by other FBO operators that it was canceled “We didn’t receive any formal reply from them,” he said. “They said it’s been postponed, I think until after the FIFA World Cup. Muscat is a busy airport during the World Cup. We didn’t receive any official word on whether or not the tender is canceled. For us, it’s still on.”
Meanwhile, he believes that progress is being made, albeit slowly, on business aircraft operations in Africa. “Some civil aviation authorities (CAAs) do not really cooperate on general aviation,” Zuriqi said. “If you are operating a private jet, they treat you as a commercial operation. I’m not a commercial operation; I’m a private jet. I want to decide to come tomorrow. There needs to be better mechanisms in place to do so.”
Hadid wants to be part of this change in Africa and has been advising CAAs there. “We tell them about the differences between commercial and general aviation. We have been in Africa for a long time, and we speak to CAAs constantly—sometimes unofficially,” he said. “We sit down with them and lend assistance, especially on the operations side, with things like permits and navigation fees. We offer our expertise, and it has brought results in many countries.”