Comlux, The Aviation Group, Global Player with a Regional Drive
Wednesday, 01 June 2011
Richard Gaona outlines his growth strategy in the Middle East in an interview with 

Zurich, Switzerland,  Richard Gaona took on the helm of Comlux, a Swiss corporate and executive aircraft operator in 2007. During the first three years Gaona embarked on an aggressive and successful expansion path by developing the concept of a “one stop shop” for the corporate and executive aircraft market. 

The strategy, combined acquisitions of new aircraft types, a reputed corporate aircraft completion and refurbishment 7,500 sq-meters facility in the USA (IndyJet, renamed Comlux America) and setting up of operational hubs in diverse parts of the world (Almaty, Moscow, Bahrain, Indianapolis, and Malta). Today, the group operates an owned fleet of twenty corporate and executive aircraft operating under three different AOCs (Swiss, European-EASA and Kazakhstan). It earned its mark as the largest Airbus corporate and executive jet operator and currently employs close to 550 professionals and crew members, with more than 30 different nationalities.

The Middle East a Demanding Market.

The end-users in the Middle East are more demanding than many parts of the world, says Gaona, “one has to appreciate the cultural differences”, adding “they demand, availability, reliability, value for money
and service consistency adhering to cultural habits and protocol procedures”. Comlux took on this challenge by setting up an operational hub in the Kingdom of Bahrain, positioning three Airbus (1 A318 Elite, 1 ACJ and 1 A320 Prestige) in Manama International Airport and shortly a Boeing 767-200ER, the future flagship of the company, will join, all backed by a 24/7 multi-lingual customer care team.
Richard GaonaAlthough he spent most of his professional career with Airbus, one can sense an air of affection to the aircraft manufacturer, yet Gaona strongly believes in providing the optimal equipment covering a specific operational requirement, be it Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Dassault or Embraer all maintained to the highest maintenance standards. Asked about the competition in the crowded Middle East market, Gaona said: “we provide a very young fleet, wide bodied aircraft, unique cabin style, global coverage and long range operations”. The providers of such services in the Middle East are few but Gaona welcomes any competition as “healthy”.

Comlux has worked closely with Royal Jet of Abu Dhabi and commands an excellent relationship with the Gulf operator, but a recent agreement with Saudia Private Aviation (SPA), an operating unit of Saudi
Arabia national carrier Saudia, signed during EBACE 2011, has become the cornerstone of Comlux growth strategy in the Middle East.

SPA fleet of Dassault Falcon 7Xs and Hawker 400XPs executive and corporate aircraft, extensive regional coverage, “airline cultural” (unlike many other corporate aircraft operators in the region), fixed based operations (FBO) in a number of key Saudi Arabian airports and excellent engineering facilities makes it a viable and formidable strategic partner. 
Comlux’s hub in Bahrain, an offshore banking center with its proximity to Saudi Arabia which enjoys more than 65% of the corporate jet market, could extend SPA’s global reach with plans to place the Falcons on
the European market, complementing Comlux’s existing fleet of mainly Airbuses and Bombardiers, and minimizing “empty legs” that kills business and “covers most of the end user’s flight requirements”, Gaona added.
Growth for the Fittest.

The 2010 economic downturn and subsequent political unrest in the region caused a drastic drop in corporate and executive business, but Comlux still sees strong opportunities in the Middle East, which it regards as integral to its global synergy.

Comlux The Aviation Group, with its Airbus and Boeing approved completion facility in Indianapolis offer a comprehensive VIP cabin support including design, outfitting and refurbishment. Together with the planned induction of new aircraft types (recently three Embraer Legacy 650 with an option for four more), and providing fully fledged aircraft management services as a cost effective option for aircraft owners elevates Comlux’s profile as a market innovator.

Although the direction of Comlux’s strategic vision is clear, like any seasoned pilot-in-command, one has to be on alert and consistently listen to the end users perceptions and needs, and respond accordingly and in a timely fashion. “We always listen to our customers” says Gaona.

Having members of royal families, heads of state, CEOs of major corporations, individuals of ultra high net worth and international celebrities as their main end users, makes Comlux stay abreast of the dynamics of the region.
Richard Gaona, 53, a cosmopolitan French national, an engineering graduate from the prestigious Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM) started his career in 1982 in the design office of Aerospatiale (Airbus predecessors). During his 25 year tenure with the aircraft manufacturer, Gaona worked in various managerial and engineering positions. In April 1999 he was assigned to setup and lead a 30 man department launching the newly defined Executive and Private Aviation division and the ACJ program. Initially it was based on the successful A319 Airliner but later embraced the Airbus ACJ330, ACJ340, ACJ350 and ACJ380 Flying Palace platforms.

During Gaona’s eight years leadership of the Executive and Private Aviation business unit, Airbus was able to secure 120 aircraft orders worldwide although the initial target for ten years was 50 ACJs, and Boeing had a start lead with their Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) program. This was crowned with the high profile sale of the first A380 VIP Flying Palace to Prince Al Walid bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia and the successful launch of the Airbus A318 Elite platform.

Despite his globetrotting and hectic business schedule, Gaona has time for boating, a passion he shares with many families in the Gulf States whom livelihood was dependant on locally manufactured boats during early part of the last century.

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