Je­tex CEO and pres­i­dent Adel Mar­dini talks ex­pan­sion plans

STAY­ING GROUNDED if you need an ex­am­ple of sheer tenac­ity,un­bru­dled de­ter­mi­na­tion and steely courage. meet Adel Mar­dini. The CEO and pres­i­dent of Je­tex Flight Sup­port, head­quar­tered in Dubai, hasn't in­her­ited his suc­ces and it hasn't come with­out a fight

Gulf Business - - FRONT PAGE - By Varun God­inho

“I WAS A driver in Da­m­as­cus tak­ing the crew be­tween the air­craft and the ter­mi­nal. The crew were al­ways com­plain­ing about the fa­cil­i­ties, lounges and ser­vice lev­els in the lounges at the air­port,” ex­plains Adel Mar­dini – now the CEO and pres­i­dent of Je­tex Flight Sup­port – of his early days when his only con­nec­tion to avi­a­tion was fer­ry­ing flight staff.

That bick­er­ing by the crew meant that Mar­dini struck upon one of those life-chang­ing epipha­nies, de­cid­ing to set up high-qual­ity ter­mi­nals for pas­sen­gers and crew of pri­vate air­craft. He bor­rowed money from a fam­ily mem­ber to start up his own busi­ness and Je­tex Flight Sup­port was es­tab­lished in 2005. Based in the UAE, the com­pany was launched at the Dubai Air­show that year. At the event, Mar­dini went all out, from flags to bill­boards to spon­sor­ships to make sure that the bright or­ange brand­ing of his com­pany dis­rupted the muted sea of greys and blacks cho­sen by tra­di­tional play­ers. While Je­tex be­gan by build­ing flight plans and of­fer­ing ground sup­port to pri­vate jet flights, Mar­dini set upon build­ing the com­pany's first pri­vate jet ter­mi­nal – fixed base op­er­a­tor (FBO) in avi­a­tion speak – at Paris Le Bour­get Air­port.

“There are only two com­pa­nies in the world do­ing FBOs, lo­gis­tics and flight sup­port – and we are one of them,” he says.

“Start­ing from 2005, it took us four years to build our first ter­mi­nal. We spent that time build­ing our plat­form, the net­work, the con­nec­tions and the slots we re­quired to set up such a busi­ness.”

Un­til Je­tex en­tered the busi­ness, FBOs were largely dreary ter­mi­nals with cheap cof­fee and non-ex­is­tent cus­tomer ser­vice. They were purely func­tional spa­ces that served as a no-frills ac­cess point to pri­vate jets.

Je­tex’s idea was to up­end that tra­di­tional model and cre­ate lux­u­ri­ous ter­mi­nals.

“Pri­vate jet cus­tomers typ­i­cally ar­rive by limos, heli­copters, McLarens, Fer­raris, Bent­leys or a Rolls-Royce and have bought jets that cost $25-$30m, some­times $100m,” ex­plains Mar­dini.

“We don’t want the jour­ney through the ter­mi­nal to their air­craft to be some­thing of a dis­con­nect from the ser­vice lev­els of lux­ury that they’re oth­er­wise used to.”

That vi­sion led Mar­dini to launch Je­tex’s flag­ship VIP ter­mi­nal at Dubai's Al Mak­toum In­ter­na­tional Air­port in 2013, fol­lowed by the ex­pan­sion of the VIP ter­mi­nal last year. Of the 1,600-squareme­tre space in the Je­tex FBO in Dubai, 1,000sqm are ded­i­cated to pas­sen­gers and 600sqm for crewmem­bers.

For those in a hurry, Je­tex’s team can get them from the door of the ter­mi­nal to the air­craft in just seven min­utes – with the last leg from the gate to the air­craft ser­viced by their own Rolls-Royce car.

En­ter the ter­mi­nal and you’ll catch sight of a glass-top pi­ano, home-theatre-sized high-def­i­ni­tion screens, a cigar lounge, recre­ational ar­eas with a foos­ball ta­ble, nap pods, a fully-kit­ted out large con­fer­ence room for last-minute meet­ings be­fore tak­ing-off and even a ded­i­cated area for pas­sen­gers to in­dulge in some re­tail ther­apy be­fore they em­bark on their flight.

Choos­ing Dubai South as the lo­ca­tion for this op­er­a­tion was a strate­gic choice says Mar­dini.

“Last year, Dubai had about 30,600 pri­vate jet flight out of the emi­rate. Of these, around 60 per cent were from Dubai In­ter­na­tional Air­port while the re­main­der were from the Al Mak­toum In­ter­na­tional Air­port where we are lo­cated.

“The plan is that over the next twoto-three years, nearly 90 per cent of all of Dubai’s pri­vate jet flights will op­er­ate out of Al Mak­toum Air­port where they won't need a slot to take off and land as op­posed to Dubai In­ter­na­tional Air­port [DXB] where you have to queue up due to sev­eral in­ter­na­tional com­mer­cial air­lines fly­ing in and out."

When con­sid­er­ing the model of a Je­tex FBO, Mar­dini turned to the hospi­tal­ity in­dus­try for in­spi­ra­tion.

“When you go to any five-star ho­tel, you’d spend at least a few min­utes within the lobby. This is what we want to achieve with our FBOs. We want pas­sen­gers to spend a few min­utes here be­fore we drive them out to their air­craft.

“The process of deal­ing with our cus­tomers is like the one ho­tels fol­low when guid­ing pas­sen­gers to their room in a five-star ho­tel. Just as you would find in a ho­tel lobby, our FBOs too have a re­cep­tion team, a concierge team and a guest ex­pe­ri­ence team too.”

The hospi­tal­ity in­dus­try, in turn, is also look­ing keenly at the FBO model. For ex­am­ple, last year Hil­ton opened its first ho­tel in­side an FBO on St Si­mons Is­land in Ge­or­gia.

“The Four Sea­sons have part­nered with NetJets to send their cus­tomers on a pri­vate jet tour aboard a big air­craft like a 757. RitzCarl­ton and Penin­sula too are plan­ning pri­vate jet tours,” Mar­dini ex­plains.

A log­i­cal ex­ten­sion for these big-ticket ho­tel chains might then be to set up their own FBOs to sup­port their jet tours.

Cre­at­ing the ho­tel-es­que FBO like Je­tex has done means an en­vi­able busi­ness model that can then, much like a five-star ho­tel chain, be fran­chised out as well. And as the CEO ex­plains, Je­tex has rapidly grown to now in­clude 29 lo­ca­tions around the world, 14 of which are fran­chised while the rest are di­rectly owned and op­er­ated by Je­tex.

“We of­fer lo­gis­tics and sup­port for flight op­er­a­tions around the world, ir­re­spec­tive of whether Je­tex has a pres­ence on the ground or not in that re­spec­tive coun­try. Where we don’t have a Je­tex pres­ence on the ground, we have af­fil­i­ates, part­ners and agents. So if you ask for flight ser­vices to LA or New York or Cuba for ex­am­ple, where we don’t have our own teams, we can still of­fer it.”

World­wide, Je­tex has more than 400 em­ploy­ees, and there are three global op­er­a­tional hubs – the flag­ship head­quar­ters in Dubai, another cen­tre in Mi­ami to cover the North and South Amer­i­can mar­kets and one more in Bei­jing to ser­vice main­land China. The GCC mar­ket re­mains a par­tic­u­larly lu­cra­tive one for Je­tex and one in which it

is ex­pand­ing its pri­vate jet foot­print. “When we say GCC, we speak mainly about the Saudi Ara­bian and UAE mar­kets be­cause these are the most ac­tive in the GCC. Saudi Ara­bia is still the big­gest mar­ket and the air­ports in Riyadh and Jed­dah are ex­pand­ing. There is ac­tiv­ity in other GCC mar­kets too, like Oman where a new air­port has re­cently opened in Muscat.

“We can see sta­bil­ity in the mar­ket here. With a cor­rec­tion in the oil mar­ket and cur­rent prices some­where be­tween $75 and $80 a bar­rel, peo­ple are once again be­gin­ning to use pri­vate jets and fly­ing more.”

While the pri­vate jet busi­ness in the GCC is grow­ing, Mar­dini of­fers a per­spec­tive on how the re­gion’s pri­vate jet in­dus­try stacks up against the undis­puted mar­ket leader.

“The US has 14,000 air­ports. Sixty per cent of the jets in the world are based in the USA, 14 per cent are based in Latin Amer­ica, 15 per cent are in Europe and 10 per cent are spread be­tween the Mid­dle East and Asia. The Mid­dle East mar­ket is grow­ing. We pro­vide lo­gis­tics sup­port to all kinds of busi­ness jets and even gov­ern­ment hu­man­i­tar­ian flights.”

Re­cently, the pri­vate jet in­dus­try in the UAE re­ceived a ma­jor fil­lip due to an an­nounce­ment by the Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil of Dubai waiv­ing up to 19 fees im­posed on the avi­a­tion sec­tor. “The im­pact of these eco­nomic re­forms is very pos­i­tive and will stim­u­late busi­ness vol­umes. We owe it to Dubai for their fa­cil­i­ties and sup­port from of­fi­cials from the gov­ern­ment and civil avi­a­tion author­ity,” Mar­dini says. The lux­ury FBO model also means that these ter­mi­nals now at­tract a large swathe of leisure trav­ellers. Je­tex has ex­panded its ser­vices be­yond flight sup­port and trip plan­ning, to now of­fer leisure trav­ellers be­spoke concierge ser­vices. From front-row seats at a fash­ion show, to all-ac­cess passes at the next F1 race, Je­tex’s concierge team can make it hap­pen. “We had one Amer­i­can client who asked for a villa in Greece, helicopter ser­vice, but­lers, cars and se­cu­rity in an all in one pack­age – and we de­liv­ered all of it,” says Mar­dini.

Je­tex’s lat­est ven­ture is to branch out and be­come an air­craft dealer. The com­pany has re­cently signed a deal with Hon­daJet to sell and main­tain air­craft, of­fer af­ter­sales sup­port and ser­vice nearby mar­kets like Pak­istan.

“This is a big ad­van­tage for us. We started out as a flight sup­port bro­ker that of­fered lo­gis­tics sup­port and then moved to FBO and now have ex­panded even be­yond that.

“Hon­daJet is a good prod­uct for busi­ness­men in the re­gion who want to fly their own jet from say Dubai to Riyadh, or Jed­dah to Dubai. Since we an­nounced the part­ner­ship we al­ready have six in­ter­ested buy­ers,” says Mar­dini of the $5m, six-seater jet, the sec­ond cheap­est pri­vate jet in the world and the first pri­vate Ja­panese air­craft man­u­fac­tured since the end of WWII.

With one fin­ger firmly on the pulse of the fu­ture of avi­a­tion, Je­tex has also re­cently signed a deal to co­op­er­ate with US-based Wright Elec­tric in build­ing the first elec­tric pri­vate jet. Je­tex will be pro­vid­ing the ground in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port elec­tric air­craft by set­ting up charg­ing sta­tions in Dubai and Muscat to be­gin with, fol­lowed by other des­ti­na­tions like Morocco and Spain. These elec­tric jets will have an es­ti­mated range of 540km ini­tially and could reach nearly 900km in the fu­ture.

Be­yond this, the fu­ture ex­pan­sion plans for the busi­ness are equally am­bi­tious. By 2020, it aims to have a net­work of 50 FBOs all over the world.

“We are fo­cus­ing on the US mar­ket, we also be­lieve that there will be big po­ten­tial in the UK mar­ket, es­pe­cially with Brexit. We have al­ready signed up Abid­jan in the Côte d’Ivoire and are tar­get­ing lo­ca­tions such as Thai­land, In­done­sia and Myan­mar.”

While Je­tex is break­ing new fron­tiers by set­ting up the first pri­vate jet ter­mi­nal in lo­ca­tions like Guarul­hos Air­port in Sao Paulo, its ex­pan­sion plans are in­flu­enced by the re­la­tion­ships that gov­ern­ments share too.

“I can see po­ten­tial in Rus­sia and Kaza­khstan, es­pe­cially af­ter the visit of [Abu Dhabi Crown Prince] Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Zayed to Kaza­khstan. We are al­ways look­ing at the vi­sion of the gov­ern­ment and the coun­tries they want to strengthen their re­la­tion­ship with.”

Mar­dini is also now look­ing at the digi­ti­sa­tion of the busi­ness.

“We have our own sys­tems in place as part of this dig­i­tal in­te­gra­tion. We are nearly ready to re­lease our lat­est app, which al­lows op­er­a­tors of pri­vate jets to sched­ule book­ings, make changes and co­or­di­nate with the Je­tex team.”

The digi­ti­sa­tion-push also in­cludes mea­sures like an e-lug­gage tag sys­tem to keep track of bags.

Along with the evo­lu­tion of Je­tex from flight op­er­a­tor to FBO con­struc­tor, to concierge ser­vice provider and now air­craft dealer, Mar­dini has seen an equally seis­mic change in the way he con­ducts busi­ness.

“My whole un­der­stand­ing of the busi­ness has changed since 2005. My un­der­stand­ing of the mar­ket it­self has changed. I did not ex­pect my out­look to­wards the busi­ness to change in this man­ner,” he ad­mits.

"I now have more busi­ness di­rec­tion than I did be­fore. Ear­lier, I was an op­er­a­tions per­son, but now I see my­self more as a strate­gic plan­ner.

“It has been a long jour­ney from where I started out as a driver. Now, I’m driv­ing the com­pany.”

Je­tex fer­ries pas­sen­gers to their air­craft in a Rolls-Royce

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