At the Leading-Edge of Aviation Innovation
Writer: Emily Jarvis
Project Manager: Kane Weller
Defined by its high level of customer support and a refined business strategy, Falcon Aviation has built a name synonymous with safety, quality and aviation excellence among the Middle East’s industry elite.
Placing particular emphasis on helicopter transport for the oil & gas sector - both offshore and inland - which represents just under half of its core business today, Falcon Aviation has continued to grow its market share at a time when others are consolidating due to the oil price drop.
“Our longstanding partners have appreciated our efforts to keep up with the latest safety and technology trends, and subsequently awarded us with additional contracts that have strengthened the backbone of Falcon Aviation,” says Captain Ramandeep Oberoi, the Company’s Chief Operating Officer (COO). “By listening to the customer to find and provide an accurate, tailored approach to their needs, we are proud to deliver a world-class service. This is what differentiates us from the competition.”
With 2016 marking the luxury highflier’s 10-year anniversary operating out of the UAE’s premier VIP-orientated Al Bateen Executive Airport, Falcon Aviation plans to utilise its already extensive local knowledge of the industry – comprising oil & gas aviation support, private jet and helicopter chargers, and MRO and aircraft management – to become an FBO (fixed-base operations) at Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai; further extending its geographic reach and capacity with a new hangar, as well as establishing an MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) facility.
“We are proud to have built and maintained a very good business model in these 10 years; growing from one aircraft in 2006, to 36 aircraft and recognised as one of the fastest growing companies in Middle East aviation today,” enthuses the COO. “Considered the aviation hub of the world, Dubai offers many strategic advantages that we hope to leverage as we shift towards becoming an FBO and MRO with a new 15,000 square metre hangar facility at Al Maktoum. We want to play a key part in this regional aviation growth.”
The success enjoyed by Falcon Aviation in the UAE over the past few years has brought to light new opportunities in the local region and further afield in the GCC, with many clients asking the Company to support them in the region.
July, 2015 marked the Company’s foray into the commercial airlines sector, signing an ACMI for three Q400 aircraft to Qazaq Air, a subsidiary of Samruk Kazyna, Kazakhstan’s Sovereign Wealth Fund. “This has helped bolster our fleet up to a total of 36 aircraft, including helicopters for oil & gas business, commercial airlines and business charters across the GCC, Europe, the Far East and occasionally, the US in one of our luxury jets: Embraer Legacy 600, Embraer Lineage 1000 and the Gulfstream G450,” says Oberoi.
Supporting this is the Company’s value-add complement, comprising a variety of backbone in-house services that further demonstrate Falcon Aviation’s devotion to continuous improvement and evolution.
“Clients can buy or lease aircraft through us and we maintain them as part of the service,” he further explains. “Our well-trained team of pilots and engineers showcase dedication, commitment and integrity at all times; a true reflection of the Falcon Aviation Company culture.”
It is this all-encompassing and confident move that is driving the Company’s three-pronged approach to establishing itself as an FBO and MRO in Dubai.
Oberoi summarises: “The MRO 15,000m2 hangar at Al Maktoum International Airport is now under construction. It will comprise an MRO centre of business jets, with additional hangarage for all kinds of aircraft operational across the Middle East. Essentially, we will replicate the current MRO setup that we have at our main base in Al Bateen in Abu Dhabi.”
The third part of this expansion strategy will see Falcon Aviation compete with the likes of world-class aviation companies as it looks to establish itself as an FBO for VIP aircraft for business charters.
Taking this one step further, the Company has a keen eye on additional growth opportunities in the GCC and MENA regions, having already completed operations in Senegal and Ghana in Africa. “Our foray into Kazakhstan [via Qazaq Air] shows just how quickly our expansion plans can escalate. On this occasion, we started from scratch leasing just three aircraft and achieving an impressive 500 flight hours in the first two months of operation,” he details.
Making the best of it
With the fluctuating oil prices directly affecting all those serving the sector, Falcon Aviation has used this time as an opportunity to showcase its varied skillset to existing and potential clients; demonstrating the Company’s willingness to align its vast knowledge and expertise to theirs to become more cost-effective, without compromising on service levels. This business model has paid off for Falcon Aviation, who recorded 11,000 hours of helicopter travel for the oil & gas industry in 2015, up 20 percent on 2014’s figures.
Oberoi explains: “This year, we forecast a further 20 percent growth, in-part due to the value-addition of our Q400 operations for our current oil projects. In light of the UAE Government’s recent announcement of a significant investment in the oil industry over the next five years, expansion of the region’s oil fields has begun and thus places Falcon Aviation in a profitable position as we hope to become one of the leading providers of aviation services to the industry. Since oil prices have weakened, some of these projects have slowed down; but of course, they still continue, meaning we have not been affected as badly as we thought, and we have also had new enquiries as well.
“Essentially, the industry is just as dependent on us as we are of them for their business as work must go on, even in these challenging times we must make the best of the situation together.”
Despite the wider industry downturn, the Company is still heavily investing in its oil & gas fleet to prepare for future industry uplift; having recently purchased a further two 19-seater AW189 and two 10-seater AW169 helicopters. “Not only is this our way of preparing for the future, but continuous investment in a more diverse and newer fleet range represents another core element of our business: safety, which remains at the forefront of our business strategy. Moreover, these replacement helicopters will also have a bigger passenger carry capacity, therefore boosting efficiency for our clients. As a result, we improve customer trust and our reliability and we are hopeful that this investment will result in long-term returns,” he adds.
Often coming hand-in-hand with technology - in some cases, to meet regulatory requirements - Falcon Aviation continuously invests in its safety procedures in order to meet the very high standards set out by the GCAA (UAE General Civil Aviation Authority) and other regional and world regulatory bodies. The subsequent reputation achieved has helped the Company to become noticed around the world.
Oberoi states: “Supported by a strong standalone internal safety and quality department, we are regularly audited and have made sure that we comply with all regulatory requirements.
“There is no doubt that new technology will play a key support role for both safety and efficiency purposes, but for us, it is how we manage our investments in technology that matters. There is no going backwards on the path we have taken: we have to continue modernising our fleets, services and solutions to become more efficient for the customer and remain competitive.”
Internally, Falcon Aviation is also adopting technology where necessary to deploy software systems to contribute to safer flying while also strengthening the Company’s support structure and efficiencies. “In tandem with this, we invest a significant amount of money in training as this is a crucial aspect of aviation. At any one time, we have approximately 120 pilots and 100 engineers under our employment,” he adds.
Given the unexpected number of enquiries coming from the oil & gas portion of the Company’s service array that has simultaneously boosted current revenue streams and investor confidence, Falcon Aviation can rest-assured that its long-term vision to become the main service provider for the industry draws closer every day.
Oberoi says: “It’s a good feeling when people come to us for business based on our strong industry reputation. Oil prices plummeted last year and yet we are continuing to grow which is promising for the business. However, given the volatile nature of the industry, we will continue to push-on with our diversification plan and grow into other areas of chartered and commercial aviation.
“Ultimately, we will use this period of time where we are witnessing organic growth in oil & gas transportation as an opportunity to both consolidate our processes to become more efficient, as well as grow our presence in the Middle East.”
Striving to provide even better solutions to be more cost-effective by working even closer with its clients, Falcon Aviation will continue modernising its fleet and safety policies on its path to becoming an industry leader.
He concludes: “Growing at a fast pace, being careful as we go, we expect growth on all fronts. This would not be possible without the hard work of our staff and growing number of partners as they continue to provide an invaluable contribution on our path to success, setting the industry benchmark high in terms of safety, quality and customer service.”