Jetex is the word

If you visit one FBO this year, it should be Jetex in Dubai. And its founder, Adel Mardini, is keen to plant orange flags all over the world.

YOU KNOW you are getting closer to Dubai World Airport, Dubai’s main business jet airport, when you first see the orange Jetex banners - although they do start several miles out. You know you have got to the private jet terminal when you see 40 Jetex flags on poles outside the facility.

Anyone driving on to the next two FBOs, which share the same building, must wonder what they are missing out. The answer is a lot. If you think that a decent FBO consists of a few chairs, tables, a couple of pot plants and a coffee machine you need to visit Jetex Dubai. It has all this, as well as a full boardroom, pool table, nap pods and exercise equipment. But the coffee machine also prints your face on the foam with edible ink (customers love this so much that there is a spare machine if one stops working). “Any time someone comes here, whether it is a potential partner, an airport authority, an operator or a customer they are blown away,” says Sunny Landeros, brand and communications director at Jetex. “Once they have experienced it, it is game over.

The first thing you see when you walk into the lobby is Adel Mardini’s office. Staff at Jetex refer to the founder of Jetex’s office as a fishbowl, but this does not do it justice. It is the size of a large aquarium, and also serves as a humidor for customers who want to smoke. The large glass wall gives Mardini a view of the whole entrance area and means he can be at the door to welcome customers when they arrive. He aims to meet every passenger even if this means popping in at 4 am.

“What you learn sitting here is really valuable, far more than I learn sitting at my operations desk or calling the customer three days later,” says Mardini. “Here you learn exactly what they want.”

Adel Mardini: Founder and CEO

Sunny Landeros, Brand and Communications Director

Dubai is a city that takes luxury design seriously. But even locals were surprised when the FBO opened in 2016. “We had one local owner who said ‘why are you investing so much?’ I said, “how much have you invested in your house, your jet, your car, your personalised number plate? Why should your experience at the airport be inferior?” says Mardini. “He now gets it completely and often pops in for an hour before his flight with his family.

Mardini stresses that they can get customers onto aircraft quickly – through security and then onto the fleet of Rolls-Royce cars that they use to drive passengers to jets – but that they have noticed customer behaviour changing: “We have whole families popping in, when just two people are travelling.

Taking on the world

The Dubai FBO is Jetex’s flagship (at least for now, the one it is building in Marrakesh will actually be bigger), but it is just a small part of the company. Dubai is also home to Jetex’s trip planning and concierge business.

The company started out in trip planning before adding FBOs and this is one of the most profitable parts of the business. It also offers fuel handling at many airports, which Mardini sees as important.

Fuel is the biggest cost in operating a jet and it is our biggest business, but it is one where it is hard to add value with customer service. It is a hard business in which to differentiate yourself,” says Mardini.

The trip planning business – which includes arranging flight permits – also helps push aircraft to Jetex’s expanding network of FBOS. “There are a lot of companies offering these services, but our advantage is that we are a one-stop shop,” he says.

Mardini had always planned to create an FBO network and in 2009 opened the first one in Paris. This was a big gamble. “Paris is the number one location in Europe, so we went there to prove ourselves,” he says. “It was a risk, but I like to take risks and I believed that we could drive the business there.

Some 10 years later he is confident that it was the right decision.

All of the major players were there, and everyone underestimated us. Now we are the biggest by far in Paris – both in movements, revenue and profit. The key element of our success was being part of the network with trip planning and fuel,” says Mardini.

Jetex now has FBOs at 15 French airports. “After we opened the FBO we had really positive feedback,” says Mardini. “To be honest we had planned to make slower progress in adding more but because of the feedback we decided to do it a little faster.

Active zone: Jetex Dubai has different areas for passengers. This one with a pool table and exercise equipment is popular with younger travellers.

The company now has more than 30 FBOs and is active in 56 locations in 26 countries. Recent wins include Kansai International Airport in Japan (its third Japanese airport), Morocco (five airports) and Oman (two). Mardini expects to add eight more FBOs this year.

Jetex is privately-owned but competes for FBOs against much larger companies like Signature, owned by BBA Aviation with a market cap of $3.5 billion), Jet Aviation (owned by General Dynamics with a market cap of $48.5 billion). But this can work to their advantage. “Jetex is doing a great job and competes hard,” says one competitor, “being smaller can also be an advantage – they are able to go for smaller deals in places that will grow where, while we are looking for bigger deals that contribute straight-away,” says one competitor. Jetex’s FBO in Abidjan, the largest city in Ivory Coast, is a clear example. Mardini is convinced that business aircraft flights will increase to the Ivory Coast and feels the same about Oman and Morocco.

Mardini says that he has no intention to expand the company into operating aircraft, as he does not want to compete with his customers. But he is interested in aircraft sales. Jetex was appointed HondaJet dealer for the Middle East in 2018. In February 2019, they took a full scale mock-up to the Dubai Mall. “Everyone in Dubai goes to the Mall,” says Mardini.

Mardini and Landeros also spend a lot of time on marketing and branding the business – whether it is the flags outside the FBOs or the large stands at tradeshows. “I decided to be different than other aviation companies from the start. We wanted people to know us as a brand,” says Mardini. “When people see orange – we want them to think of Jetex.” Jetex targets operators, pilots (the pilot rest area in Dubai is just as nice as the passenger area) and owners. “We had a Russian client in our FBO in Dubai and he picked up his phone and called his father. He said: ‘Dad, wherever there is a Jetex FBO we need to use it for now on.’ It is great when owners make the choice.

Mardini and Landeros have one big frustration. And it is pretty fundamental to what they do. “If you ask for my dream, I want to change the word FBO. I don't agree with this word. It just does not reflect what we are doing,” says Mardini. Landeros agrees: “To be fair the acronym actually sounds better when you spell out Fixed Base Operation.” Mardini believes the key to his business is focusing on the customer experience. “We are trying to make a major change here – and listening to customers. We are just like a hotel lobby – booking passengers in and getting their luggage to the aircraft, we drive them to the aircraft just like when you are taken to the room,” says Mardini. “We are the reception to the aircraft.”

So what word, would they prefer? “Jetex. You no longer say telephone, you now say iPhone,” says Landeros. “You say Fedex, Xerox, so why can’t people just say Jetex. Forget going to an FBO, just go to the Jetex.

Alasdair Whyte, Editor, Corporate Jet Investor