CEO Charles D'Alberto
Words: Justine Doody
To get Perla Aviation off the ground, the company is seeking to raise US$4.9 million, by offering 4.9 million Ordinary Shares for sale, representing 49% of the total shares in the company. The controlling interest will remain in the hands of company founder and CEO Charles D’Alberto. The majority of the capital raised will go on the purchase of two Mustang Citation Corporate Jets, which will be acquired with a 60% down payment of approximately US$3 million, the remainder being financed directly by Cessna Finance. Perla expects that the aircraft will be wholly owned by twhe company within 24 months. The rest of the funds raised will be used to support the aviation operation as well as going towards working capital needs throughout the company’s other divisions, Perla Telecoms Group, Perla K-9 Services and Perla Armored Cars. From its base in Dubai, at the centre of the GCC States of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Perla Aviation will be able to ferry business people to emerging markets in Africa as well as Middle Eastern states like Afghanistan in flight-times of just an hour or two. Alternatives in the region to the transport service Perla Aviation proposes are few, a fact that the company hopes to capitalise on. Low cost operators are still unable to offer routes across many of the markets that Perla Aviation will serve. Current prices for chartering planes in the region, according to Perla CEO Charles D’Alberto, are at the lowest US$5,000 per hour, with a typical rate hovering around US$6-8,000 per hour. Perla Aviation will be able to significantly undercut the competition. By operating aircraft with low overheads and low maintenance costs, Perla Aviation will be able to offer rates on its corporate taxi-jet service of US$3,000 per hour. The model, according to D’Alberto’s research, has proved successful in Europe and the US, where low cost travel options are much more widely available – so he is confident that uptake in the Middle East and Africa, where communications infrastructure still lags behind the West, will be strong. Perla Aviation has already begun operating. To supplement the activities of Perla Group International’s other divisions, Perla Telecoms Group, Perla K-9 Services and Perla Armored Cars, the Aviation division has delivered cargo for clients to several areas of the Middle East and Africa. And the company’s strength in other areas will continue to be key to the success of the aviation venture. Perla Group International counts among its clients global entities like US private military contractor and aircraft maintenance company Dyncorp, as well as engineering company Bechtel, and even the United Nations, all operating in hard-to-access areas across the region, such as Somalia, Kenya, Pakistan and Iraq. Perla Aviation can leverage the group’s existing client base to provide a ready-made source of customers for the corporate taxi-jet service. New clients will be attracted through a range of marketing strategies; as well as employing on-the-ground sales liaison officers to reach out to new clients doing business in Dubai, the company plans to promote its services heavily on the Internet, and its booking procedures will be fully automated and accessible online. D’Alberto’s track record in business is strong: at Australian company NewSat, he recognised the potential of VSAT technology for the Middle East, and helped make NewSat the fastestgrowing VSAT company in the world. As CEO and founder of UAE-based DigitalSkys Ltd., he built the company from initial seed funding of US$250,000 to a market capitalisation of US$40 million. He was the first to bring autodeploy satellite technology to the Middle East, and followed it up by pioneering the use of GSM over IP in the region. Perla Group International grew out of his expertise in telecoms – the first division to start operations was Perla Telecoms Group, which in 2007 began providing turnkey solutions to SMEs, large telcos, military customers and other clients needing specialised communications products and facilities. Expanding on the success of the telecoms division, and in order to meet the needs of its customer base more fully, the company evolved into providing armoured cars, aviation solutions and K-9 services. Himself a qualified helicopter pilot, D’Alberto has enlisted the expertise of key industry figures and experienced pilots to help build the aviation segment of the business. Dubai has been hit harder than most by the global downturn; its oncebooming property market has slumped, taking a good deal of the emirate’s energy with it. But D’Alberto views the current dip as an opportunity for Perla’s new venture: as companies try to cut costs, the lower rates Perla Aviation can charge should appeal to clients who need to do business in the region. Moreover, D’Alberto says, Dubai’s location makes it the ideal springboard for doing business in the region. And as Western companies who were quick to enter the market in better times now hustle for the exit, Perla has the advantage of remaining on the ground – as D’Alberto puts it, “To do business here, you have to be based here.” Combining Western corporate governance and standards with regional expertise and a strong local base, the company is well positioned to take advantage of the niche it has identified. D’Alberto contends that investors will see an immediate return on investment. Pointing to the fact that the group’s other divisions are profitable, he projects that the company will continue strong growth, and sees this share issue as the final capital-raising exercise before the company goes public. The eventual goal for Perla Group International is to list initially on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), followed by a dual listing on the Dubai International Financial Exchange (DIFX). D’Alberto explains the reasoning behind the two-pronged strategy, which he calls “going out and coming back in”. Besides the advantages that will accrue to the company from listing on the ASX, listing in Australia will enable the company to bypass the lengthy process of listing on the DIFX, through a mechanism that enables companies publicly traded on the ASX to list on the DIFX following a period of as little as 60 days from application. This dual listing will allow the company to benefit from the corporate governance standards of the ASX as well as to tap into the considerable appetite for investment and substantial available capital offered by the Dubai exchange. And having one foot in each market parallels the company’s vision for success – putting together the best of the West with the new opportunities of the Middle East, the company hopes that for its new venture, the sky’s the limit.