Airline passengers remain down 73% as private jet operators are seeing flight levels at 2019 levels

As airlines keep their planes parked, Jet Linx, XOJET, and Nicholas Air are adding 29 private jets to their respective fleets

The V-shaped private jet recovery is despite the fact that most corporate flying has yet to return

Helped by CARES Act funds that enabled private jet operators to quickly ramp up, skeleton-like airline schedules, new pricing programs, and concerns about exposure to COVID-19 aboard packed airplanes, private flights have returned to near-normal levels. That’s despite the fact corporate travel by existing customers has dropped.

Both Part 135 charter and Part 91k fractional operators saw higher 2020 flight totals on four of the first seven days in July, according to data from Argus. At the same time, TSA statistics showed airline passenger counts 73% below the same period in 2019.

Airlines vs. Private Jets

COVID-19 air travel trends

CalendarAirlines
(Change 2020 vs. 2019)
Private Jet
Charter
Operators
(Change 2020 vs. 2019)
Private Jet
Fractional
Operators Airlines (Change 2020 vs.
2019)
March-67%-27%-30%
April-95%-67%-80%
May-90%-47%-54%
June-81%-22%-25%
July-73%-5%-7%
1-Jul-75%21%4%
2-Jul-63%6%2%
3-Jul-67%-23%-22%
4-Jul-80%-25%-12%
5-Jul-74%4%54%
6-Jul-73%20%4%
7-Jul-74%-30%-41%
While airline passenger counts remain deeply depressed, according to TSA data, Argus shows private jet activity in a V-shaped recovery

Overall, charter operators recorded 19,883 flights during the month’s first week compared to 20,936, a dip of just 5%.

The largest charter operators include Wheels Up Group, Executive Jet Management, a unit of NetJets, XOJET Aviation, part of Vista Global Holdings, Jet Linx Aviation, Solairus Aviation, Jet Edge, FlyExclusive, Mountain Aviation, Clay Lacy Aviation, and Jet Aviation among others.

Charter operators saw traffic dip 27% in March, falling off 67% below 2019 levels in April, before recovering in May (-47%), continuing the upward movement in June (-22%), and now reaching pre-COVID numbers in July.

Part 135 Charter Operators

2019 vs. 2020 Flight Trends

Dates20192020Change
2019 vs. 2020
March104,31976,377-27%
April99,80232,929-67%
May104,11555,167-47%
June100,78678,398-22%
July20,93619,883-5%
1-Jul3,0053,63121%
2-Jul3,2523,4436%
3-Jul3,5212,703-23%
4-Jul2,0391,532-25%
5-Jul2,5612,6574%
6-Jul2,6013,13320%
7-Jul3,9572,784-30%
Part 135 private jet charter flights rebounded from a 67% decline in April to within 5% of 2019 totals in July, according to Argus.

Fractional operators flew 6,408 segments the first seven days of July, down by 7%. NetJets, OneSky’s Flexjet and Flight Options, PlaneSense, Airshare, Nicholas Air, and Northern Jet Management are included in the Park 91K numbers published by Argus.

Part 91k Fractional Operators

2019 vs. 2020 Flight Trends

Dates20192020Change
2019 vs. 2020
March35,17424,486-30%
April34,4806,777-80%
May35,76716,281-54%
June34,07725,417-25%
July6,8876,408-7%
1-Jul1,0241,0664%
2-Jul1,0231,0452%
3-Jul1,185929-22%
4-Jul552487-12%
5-Jul6681,03054%
6-Jul9189514%
7-Jul1,517900-41%
After Part 91k fractional operator flights fell by 80% in April, they roared back exceeding 2019 totals four days during the first seven days in July.

The good news is backed up with several operators expanding their fleets. This morning Jet Linx announced it was acquiring the charter and management arm of Meridian, adding 23 private jets to its fleet.

The additions include including Bombardier Global Express 6000 and 5000s, Gulfstream G550s, GVs, G450s, GIVSPs, Dassault Falcon 7Xs, and 2000s, and Embraer Phenom 300s.

At the same time, XOJET said it has added four super-midsize aircraft to its fleet of 43 private jets. Last month, Nicholas Air said it had purchased two new Phenom 300Es.

TSA Airline Passenger Throughput

2019 vs. 2020 Passenger Trends

Dates20192020Change
March107,819,56735,139,502-67%
April70,124,5913,287,008-95%
May74,499,2537,165,829-90%
June76,619,90014,481,802-81%
July17,217,6944,706,373-73%
1-Jul2,547,889626,516-75%
2-Jul2,088,760764,761-63%
3-Jul2,184,253718,988-67%
4-Jul2,345,846466,669-80%
5-Jul2,795,369732,123-74%
6-Jul2,748,718755,555-73%
7-Jul2,506,859641,761-74%
TSA data shows a tepid recovery in airline passengers

While airline travel has rebounded from a 95% falloff in April and 90% in May, passenger counts in July remain 73% below last year’s numbers, according to TSA.

Yesterday, United Airlines said based on lower bookings it would cut capacity for August by 65% instead of its original plan for a 60% reduction. Last week, American Airlines drew the ire of the Center for Disease Control when it announced it was again selling middle seats.

More Good News For Private Jets?

Speaking this morning during Corporate Jet Investor Global 2020, Patrick Gallagher, president of NetJets, underscored the strength of the private jet rebound.

He told the audience of industry executives, “May was our largest month for new customers acquired since December of 2007. We certainly weren’t saying that a few months into the recession of 2008.”

The good news looks to continue for several reasons. In addition to the rebounding flight hours, key jet card players like NetJets, Sentient Jets, Air Partner, Jet Linx, Wheels Up, Nicholas Air, and Magellan Jets, have all said sales of prepaid products such as jet cards have spiked.

Jet card deposits can range into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and are typically spent over six to 18 months, meaning that the coffers of private aviation companies are filling with funds that will be used for travel in the future.

That’s different that early March. Back then, there was a jump in one-off, on-demand charter flights as kids returned from schools that were shutting down and others rented single flights to move from hot spots to second homes.

What’s more, the rebound is happening without an increase in business flying. “Our corporate flying remains way, way down,” said Gallagher, a line echoed by Air Partner U.S. President David McCown, speaking at the same event.

Even that thorn seems to have a flower waiting to bloom. Unlike the Great Depression when companies sought to sell back their fractional shares, Gallagher told the CJI audience, “People don’t want to let go of their access to private aviation. We’ve seen no increase in our repurchase activity…and the anecdotal conversations we are having with our (corporate) customers are some are telling us they are going to expand the number of people who they are going to make their aircraft available to.”

About the Author Doug Gollan

I am Founder and Editor of Private Jet Card Comparisons, the only independent buyer's guide to jet card membership programs, and DG Amazing Experiences, a weekly luxury travel e-newsletter for private jet owners. I am also a contributor to Forbes.com

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