According to the latter’s weekly Global Market Tracker, through June 9, private flight levels approached 70% compared to the same period in 2019.
Argus found during the first seven days of June, Part 135 flights reached 68% of 2019 levels while fractional flying was at 65%.
Part 135 represents on-demand charters and jet card flights. Fractional activity was driven by NetJets and Flexjet, two of the market’s largest players, although their totals also include flights they operate for jet card customers in addition to share owners.
During the same period, TSA data has airline passengers at 15% of last year’s totals, although on an upswing.
The good news for the private jet industry is likely to continue. Richard Koe, managing director of WingX notes, “With commercial airline capacity severely cut back, and the airline passenger experience complicated to say the least, business aviation could see a belated surge in July.”
Airline CEOs have said it could take three years to restore their networks to pre-COVID-19 levels.
A poll during a recent webinar by Aviation Week found 55% of respondents believe private jets will get back to pre-crisis activity within a year, and more than 80% think that it will take less than two years.
If the airlines continue the reduced schedules for an extended period, that may give more folks who need to get somewhere the opportunity to see what they’ve been missing.
As an example, the 336 mile flight from Miami to Jacksonville takes about 47 minutes on a light jet. American Airlines blocks the same trip at around 80 minutes, accounting for various delays.
However, there is now only one daily nonstop per day in each direction between the two Florida cities. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, there were up to 16 daily flights on the route.
The trend for private jet travel has been headed up since mid-April when levels plunged by as much as 80%.
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More recently, the industry found pent-up demand during the extended Memorial Day weekend despite the fact that many hotels, resorts and beaches were still closed, including holiday hotspots Las Vegas and Miami.
Flights by charter operators achieved 59% of activity levels on a year-over-year basis. During the period there were 13,742 departures, down from 23,453 in 2019.
That includes key players such as Gama Aviation Signature, Delta Private Jets, and TMC Jets, all part of the Wheels Up group, Executive Jet Management, a division of NetJets, Vista Global Holdings’ XOJet, Jet Linx, Solairus Aviation, JetEdge, and Fly Exclusive.
On Memorial Day Saturday, Part 135 flights ended up at 71% of last year’s level while the fractional operators were at 68% of 2019 activity. During those same days airline passenger count was at 12%.
A good chunk of the demand for private travel is of course driven by consumers who want to reduce exposure to a deadly disease with no vaccine or cure.
And while the airlines and their trade associations have been mainly on the defensive, raising eyebrows by arguing that there is no benefit to social distancing on their airplanes, in other words, they intend to sell every seat whenever they can, private aviation has astutely positioned itself as a safer alternative.
In fact, the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), which audits safety standards of private jet operators and terminals, FBOs in industry lingo, even issued a self-audit program to help members ensure the most sterile environment.
At the same time, business aviation companies have been proactive in spending extra money to ensure cleanliness.
NetJets says it is spending over $1 million dollars per month on enhanced procedures. Directional Aviation’s Flexjet treated its entire fleet with a COVID-19 repelling application and has given its pilots an app enabling them to report temperature and blood pressure multiple times daily. Sister Sentient Jet, which is a broker for jet cards, is extending the same scrutiny to the operators that fly its customers.
Over two dozen private aviation providers have announced heightened procedures reducing possible COVID-19 exposure.
And while the airlines dither on whether flights should be dirt cheap or expensive, private aviation companies have been striving to make getting into the market more attractive.
Jet Cards, which often require a purchase of at least 25 hours, are now commonly being sold with a requirement of buying only 10 hours of travel up front. At the same time, more companies are launching pay-as-you-go memberships, where you pay to join, but then don’t have to deposit money, instead paying with each flight.
On Thursday, Magellan Jets was the latest to roll out a pay-as-you-go membership.
Currently demand is so strong, it’s not clear lowering the bar is even necessary.
Sentient, which has kept its entry-point at 25 hours, reports half of card hours sold in April and May were to new customers. For NetJets, which also requires a purchase of 25 hours, new first-time customers doubled its typical May haul and made the month its best since December 2007.
There’s reason to believe the trend will continue. McKinsey reports that before COVID-19 private aviation was tapping into just 10% of the consumers who can afford to partake.
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