Business aviation weathers the winter blues


Overall, business jet activity has not wilted as much as expected given than holidays should be over, lockdowns have been renewed and employees work from home

Business aviation flight activity has held up during the last 3 weeks, flights down only 3% compared to the same period in January 2020, with almost 200,000 sectors operated on business jets and props since the New Year began, according to WINGX`s weekly Global Market Tracker. This trend is in stark contrast to the Scheduled Airlines, their activity stagnating at around 50% below normal. Much of the boost to business aviation is coming from the leisure market and apparently the longer-stay vacations this year. Even in the last week, well after holidays would normally end, business jet activity was within 10% of normal. There is considerable geographic variation, with the US market tilting the market up, Europe weighing it down.

At just 1% below normal, the US market’s resilience owes mainly to the charter market. Charter sectors are up by 4%, and flight hours 10% higher than in the comparable first three weeks of January 2020. Even in the last week, charter flight hours were down only 1.5%. Even in the last week, business jet and prop charters out of Florida are 26% up on same period last year. Colorado is as much a hotbed of activity as ever, charters up almost 40% for January. Charter activity out of California is still down by 33% but even New York is now seeing more charter demand than in the same period in January 2020. Charter flights from the US to sunny destinations in Costa Rica, St Kitts, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos are all well up for this time of year.

The European market is ailing as ever tighter lockdown restrictions are imposed to control the winter virus. Business aviation flight activity has slid 23% below normal across the region, with the United Kingdom the conspicuous backmarker. From the UK, business aviation flights are down by 50% compared to January 2020, as scheduled airline activity plummets 80%. in the last week, as international borders come under heavier restriction, all flight activity has wilted, with business jet activity down by two thirds. Undoubtedly Brexit has complicated an already difficult market for UK registered operators, with red tape on traffic rights significantly constraining charter operations. The leisure market is most obviously affected, with charters to the ski slopes from the UK down 80%.

Other European countries are doing relatively better, with branded charter operations holding up at 14% below normal, much better than private and corporate flight departments where hours are down by 28%. In contrast, ad-hoc cargo sectors flown from Europe are up by 90%. Government usage of business aviation aircraft is also slightly up this month. Western Europe is the worst affected in terms of activity decline, especially Germany, jet activity down by 44% this January. Business jet sectors flown out of Switzerland are down by over a third, reflecting the demise of this years ski season. Activity out of France and Spain is down by less, around 15% fewer flights. In contrast, business jet flights from Portugal are up by 15%.

In Europes periphery, there is notably more business jet traffic in January 2021 than in January 2020. Business jet flights out of Russia, Turkey, Cyprus, the Balkans, Hungary and Romania are all well up. The UAE has seen almost double the number of business jet flights than in January 2020. Flights from Israel were up by 3% last week YOY. Flights to and from the Maldives are up by three times. Business jet activity in Brazil is higher than last year, though still well down in Mexico and Canada. Business jet sectors flown from China are up this year, but down in the last week. For all these markets outside the US and Europe, the busiest aircraft segment is ultra-long range, with hours down by 25%, whereas midsize jets are flying 3% more sectors than they were last year.

Managing Director WINGX Richard Koe comments “Overall, business jet activity has not wilted as much as expected given than holidays should be over, lockdowns have been renewed and employees work from home. Europe reflects this logic, with flight activity from the UK stilled since December. But the much bigger US market has been a lot more resilient and for now at least it appears that stronger charter demand is going to sustain a strong recovery into February.”