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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: COVID-19 has propelled the global private aviation industry as safety concerns and travel restrictions fueled a surge in demand for flexible and secure travel options.
Speaking to Arab News on the sidelines of the recently concluded Saudi Airport Exhibition, held in Riyadh from Dec. 19 - 20, Fahad Al-Jarboa, CEO of Saudia Private Aviation, said that the pandemic contributed to the emergence of new business opportunities in general aviation, ultimately reshaping the sector.
“People appreciated private aviation during COVID-19 because most of the commercial jets were grounded, except for those who have their own private jets. You just file a request, get the permits to wherever you want to go, and fly. This luxury of owning your own time became critical. So, it created the new business for private aviation,” he said.
He added that people with the ability to pay for private jets realized that this was a favorable development, with costs proving to be lower than initially perceived.
“These people loved the ability to be in the Far East in the morning, in the Middle East in the evening, and to be in North America the next day in the morning,” he said.
Al-Jarboa expressed confidence in the ongoing positive trajectory of private aviation, citing persistent challenges in the supply chain of the commercial sector.
He pointed out that major manufacturers such as Airbus and Boeing face constraints in producing sufficient airplanes to meet the demand, further emphasizing the favorable outlook for personal air travel in the future. “So, that void in demand, I think, is going to be filled by private aviation,” he said.
Commenting on the Saudi aviation industry, Al-Jarboa said that the sector in general is witnessing unprecedented growth, both in the commercial and general areas, due to robust activity in Saudi Arabia emanating from Vision 2030 and the cultural, economic, and sporting activities taking place in the Kingdom, specifically in Riyadh and Jeddah.
He added that the region is increasingly attracting tourists, primarily in the realm of private aviation or nonscheduled aviation, which has experienced exponential growth in the three years following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a result of hosting the Formula 1 and the Gulf tournament in Jeddah over the past three years, along with sports activities occurring in Riyadh and Jeddah, we have observed a rise in new customers — individuals with whom we had not previously engaged, such as celebrities coming to attend some of the boxing matches, Formula 1, the Red Sea International Film Festival or the football games taking place in both cities,” the CEO said.
Al-Jarboa added that this increase enhanced government-related business, including events such as the Future Investment Initiative and other global summits that have further confirmed the Kingdom’s presence globally.
“Saudi Arabia is becoming a political and business hub that connects the three continents of Europe, Africa and Asia. Certainly, we in private aviation have been the main beneficiary of these activities,” he said.
Highlighting how his company leveraged technology to enhance its operations and services, the CEO noted that Saudia Private Aviation embarked on its digital journey four years ago.
“We had a vision to digitize our operation as much as possible to eliminate tedious, repetitive, boring tasks to make better use of our staff time by transferring them from routine tasks to doing value-added services. Today, for example, our VIP client does not want to be told in person when they need to show up or be informed that the aircraft is ready or whether we have offers. They like to deal with technology. So, we have eliminated the need through technology to have manned call centers,” he said.
Al-Jarboa noted that they are increasing investments in robotics to enable communication with their clients through automated systems.
“We are also automating routine processes like flight setup. Today. I deal with customers like Aramco, the Royal Saudi Air Force, and the Helicopter Co., and because of the nature of their services that sometimes their schedules are produced on a daily basis, human beings may sometimes not be 100 percent focused, as they have slippage of doing things,” he said.
The CEO added that they must eliminate mistakes to improve the quality of the services provided to their clientele. “We invested in technology that automates those routine tasks like flight setup. We get the flight requested and the flight gets set up inside the company because you have flight and group operations, catering, and fueling. All these services must be in sync with the robot,” Al-Jarboa explained.
He noted that they are elevating their services to the point of being spotless and seamless while minimizing human interference as much as possible. He further stated that while they haven’t reached that point entirely, it is the direction they are heading toward.
“We want to maximize the utilization of our staff time in a more productive way, like attending to special requests, receiving calls from our clients, addressing issues, flight disruption and that sort of task. The other thing is that we are investing in technology to help us make better decisions,” said Al-Jarboa.
He added: “Today, I only have one aircraft, but very soon I will have more than four. I need to be able to predict where the next business is going to come from so that I can position my aircraft closer to where the demand is most likely coming from,” he said.
The CEO of Saudia Private Aviation firmly believes that harnessing technology is the future. It can enable efficient demand forecasting, on-the-spot decision-making, and effective operations optimization at minimal cost.
He highlighted that the sheer amount of automation they can access today is bigger than their staff’s capacity to analyze. “We need to deploy artificial intelligence to help us analyze the wealth of information we have and tell us where the business is most likely is going to come from based on the calendar of events in Saudi Arabia and the economic activities in Riyadh, Jeddah or everywhere in the region,” Al-Jarboa said.
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