What were the main highlights of 2013 for Abu Dhabi Aviation?
AL HAMMADI: The highlight for 2013 is the company has maintained its performance. We went through a year of challenge, but with the effort that everybody has put in place and the strategy that was adapted over the years, we have been able to maintain the results.
The main focus was internal. We have been focusing on the external market for many years and now we are back to take our share of the internal market. So I think we have been very successful in capturing the biggest share and the local market in Abu Dhabi. That has been coupled with an expansion on the external market where we were able to maintain our external contracts in Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and different parts of the world. So the overall result at Abu Dhabi Aviation, the helicopter side, was good.
Royal Jet as a partner also continued to grow and to maintain its customer base, where they maintained positive results. The cargo business was a challenging business. I think everybody in the market has seen a decline in the market of cargo, unscheduled cargo, but with all the changes and the strategies that we have put in place we are back on track to profitability in that specific sector. So overall, we maintained being a profitable company with very good prospects.
With the signing of an LOI for 2 Q400 NextGen turboprops at the 2013 Dubai Air Show, Abu Dhabi Aviation continues to invest in fleet expansion. What are Abu Dhabi Aviation’s long term goals for growth and expansion?
AL HAMMADI: The growth of Abu Dhabi Aviation, as a group, has been focused at the internal market and the international market. Now, the demand in the internal market has been increasing and Abu Dhabi Aviation would need to make sure it's prepared for that growth. So basically we do not wait until the demand happens. We would go ahead of time and organize ourselves to make sure that we have the right asset to support client needs because as you are aware, those aircraft take time. So you cannot pick them as you need them. You have to order them ahead of time and you have to plan for what you need. Normally, what will happen is an operator would have to take a risk on what aircraft to choose, when to choose that aircraft, and when to introduce that aircraft into operation. Our strategy has been a very conservative strategy. To maintain our profitability and reduce our risk, we would pick the aircraft when we are sure that there would be a demand in the market, and that has been our strategy.
To support our growth in Abu Dhabi, our approach was to continue with a mixed portfolio of increased product. We do not just focus on one product. The focus has been in the past always on the rotary side, and I think it's the time now that we also need to focus on the fixed-wing. This is coupled with other investments in a training simulator business that we have been pursuing. So when you put all of this together, this is how we are pursuing the growth in Abu Dhabi.
What geographic areas are you most keen on? How does being based in Abu Dhabi enable your international growth ambitions?
AL HAMMADI: The expansion of the geographic market is being supported by the increased aviation activities within the region. As everybody is aware, within a 300km range, there would be three bases flying hundreds of aircraft between Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Qatar. So basically, that allows you to ship any part to anywhere in the world and you cannot miss any destination. That has allowed and enabled Abu Dhabi Aviation to expand its support to areas as far as Brazil, as those contracts that we have with those clients also depend on us supporting them with spare parts. So I think that success in the previous years and the experience that we have gained in supporting those customers has given us the ability to even refocus back and to say, we could support with no problems other clients within the region. So that's why our current focus is on the Saudi market; there is a demand for helicopter support. There are clients who are looking for credible MROs to support them with their activities, and Abu Dhabi Aviation being the largest helicopter operator and the biggest civil aviation MRO in this specific business, has given us the reputation to be able to be accepted by many of those clients.
Abu Dhabi Aviation (ADA) is setting up an advanced flight training facility in Abu Dhabi. What is the latest update with regard to this venture?
AL HAMMADI: The main focus for ADA this year was on training. We looked at training as an opportunity. We have seen the growth of aviation within the military and non-military activities, and to be able to support all those clients, you have to start a training base. For that, we have decided that we would invest in a simulation centre that would be probably the largest helicopter centre in the region. We know that there are many fixed-wing simulation centres in the region but there are none when it comes to helicopters. So what we want to do is to establish the biggest helicopter centre in the Middle East, and this would be able to support Abu Dhabi Aviation's needs and other client needs.
We have been focusing on the external market for many years and now we are back to take our share of the internal market.
The centre will be located in a very nice geographical area within Abu Dhabi. It would be within close proximity from the airport where the client will have the flexibility to be in and out without having to waste a lot of time or energy to go through the traffic. So we have selected a good location.
What does the establishment of a world-class training center mean for aviation services in Abu Dhabi? How well positioned is Abu Dhabi to become a regional hub for pilot training programs?
AL HAMMADI: We are leveraging the growth of aviation within the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, and within the United Arab Emirates, to make sure whatever is needed to support the external clients would be available in Abu Dhabi. As we know, with the ease of the aviation business, you can come from anywhere in the world with a direct flight to Abu Dhabi or to Dubai. Having a centre in Abu Dhabi that would support your training needs or the client training needs makes it very convenient. There is a client in India. There is a client in Pakistan, in Jordan, in Saudi Arabia, within close proximity to Abu Dhabi, which makes the centre very attractive to those clients. Most of the clients today will have to travel to Europe to get their training done, so our objective is to establish a very reputable training centre that will fulfil all their needs.
Abu Dhabi’s aviation infrastructure for passenger airlines is world class and well documented. How would you describe the state of infrastructure as it relates to other aviation services such as those that support offshore oil operations, search & rescue, agriculture, etc.?
AL HAMMADI: Abu Dhabi's strategy is based on a longer vision of bringing every centre of excellence to the Emirates. It's about creating opportunities for the next generation. It is about training, preparing human capital to support the Emirates. ADA has also aligned its strategy to meet the vision of Abu Dhabi. So basically what we are doing is recognising that there would be a need for different activities and different products. One of those products is search and rescue. So for the past five years we had two main contracts in which we got on board with the search and rescue, and this has given us the ability to master these activities in a way, and this is something that we have decided that needs to be developed as part of the long term plan of Abu Dhabi. You add to this the human capital in which there would be the future that the Emirates would depend on. So basically what we are trying to do is make sure that we have a local program to develop nationals. For us to do that, we have to start from now in picking those who are looking at aviation as their career and developing them to be the future pilots and engineers.
How has Abu Dhabi Aviation leveraged joint-ventures to advance its business?
AL HAMMADI: Part of the strategy is to make sure we offer our client the best product possible. We have pursued joint ventures with the aircraft manufacturer. For example, we have a JV with Augusta Westland in which we have put together a plan to support all the clients within the UAE and the MENA region with spare parts and MRO activities. The spare centre has already started supplying spares to different clients, and that would enable the customer to have one shop to get all their business done, and that would also be contributing to a saving where they don’t need to ship their helicopter abroad a long distance for repair and overhaul.
Another JV in which ADA has looked at the experience of others when it comes to search and rescue, is the need for a national ambulance to support all UAE needs. We are happy that we have been able to put the first aircraft under that joint venture in a contract, in which we supply the helicopters and provide professional pilots and the other party provides everything else, to make sure that we provide the best services to our clients.