The debate between the necessity or irrelevancy of regulation has been dominating discussion at the last three trade shows MEBAA has attended. It’s a recurring trend but one which has come to the fore as demand for business aviation in the Middle East increases but margins are harder to maintain – sometimes the result of overt legislation.
The common catalyst for those conversations are regulations imposed upon business aviation that were designed for commercial operators. Despite sharing the same airspace, the two have such different ways of working that such regulation is becoming counter-productive to operational efficiency for business aviation operators and in the worst cases - its bringing safety standards into question.
In actual fact, when it is given license to do so, global business aircraft operators do very well at policing themselves by voluntarily adopting their own industry standard and demonstrating how a high level of safety in flight operations can be achieved without excessive legislative burden. Indeed, professional and respected operators take it upon themselves to implement global standards with initiatives such as IS-BAO which is a code of best practice. It has been developed by the industry for the industry.
For example, the unpredictability of business aircraft operations compared with the airlines' timetabled schedule makes airline flight time limitations insufficiently flexible. Indeed, the majority of business aviation flights are short haul, there are frequent changes to the schedule, frequent aircraft positioning flights without passengers and numerous early starts and late finishes but with long periods of rest. These nuances are all the result of customer demand and if business aviation cannot meet the needs of its clientele because commercial regulations keep them grounded, then business will be lost.
It also has a domino effect because insurance companies naturally (and rightly) demand the highest adoption of official regulation to ensure appropriate cover. So legally and financially, operators are chasing their tail, trying desperately to turn profit whilst all the time seeing it eroded by costs that ensure aircraft are flying within the law and covered.
As a consequence this defeats the object of regulation, because there are always operators who will seek to take short cuts. In our industry this is called the ‘grey market’ which defines semi-illegal activity. The solution towards the grey market is still open for debate, such is the size of the problem, but I believe that if regulations better understood the dynamics of business aviation, travel would become seamless, adhering to insurance would be cheaper and profits would be greater. Then private managers and owners might not feel the need to lease planes or operate within the grey market.
Part of the solution means working proactively and enthusiastically with aviation regulators in the region. And just as they must understand our challenges, we must understand their objectives. It will not happen overnight and we need to ensure we present thoroughly researched and data-led proposals that include case studies and documentation of actual events to illustrate our case. It also means working as a collective and sharing information between ourselves, something MEBAA is keen to facilitate. Only then can we ensure any permanent changes are necessary and relevant.