Will the influx of newcomers and those returning to private aviation be enough to offset the expected decline in business travel this Fall?
That question has created a sharp divide in the private jet industry.
Many charter brokers and companies selling jet cards reported record sales, particularly from new customers. A multitude of articles in the consumer press citing triple-figure increases for inquiries painted too rosy an outlook said the naysayers.
COVID has allowed me to justify using private flights. The convenience and efficiency have caused me to consider purchasing a jet for regular use.– Subscriber to Private Jet Card Comparisons
Their concern was that even as the recovery brought flights to over 80% of pre-COVID-19 levels the optimistic reports would hurt the industry’s chances of gaining more financial aid. So far the CARES Act has provided at least 346 business aviation companies more than $24 billion in payroll support.
The glass 20% empty folks note that with charter prices under pressure, many companies are still getting hammered on the bottom line. And of course, the biggest point is the known unknown. That is, with so many offices closed and the pandemic still killing over 20,000 per month, will enough business travel return now that the summer leisure travel period season is behind us?
A just-completed survey of over 150 new and existing private aviation users by Private Jet Card Comparisons provides insights.
In the first consumer research with private jet users since the virus outbreak, the survey reveals 90% expect to travel privately this Fall. What’s more, 31% say their companies are expanding private jets due to COVID-19 and limited airline schedules.
More than a third of respondents are new or returning users to private aviation (36%). Returning users include mainly retired executives who used private jets when they were working. Now in the high-risk profile, they have come back to private travel.
For an industry that has always had PR challenges, 88% of new private aviation flyers have a positive view of the business aviation segment versus 12% who are neutral. There were no negative sentiments expressed via comments from respondents.
The most popular destinations for leisure fliers this Fall will be Florida (38%), Mountain Destinations (34%), followed by Caribbean/Central America (17%), and Big Cities (16%). Second homes (69%) followed by Resorts (31%), City Hotels (20%), Rental Villas (17%), and Yachts (10%) are the most popular venues.
“It was always more a curiosity than a reality until COVID-19, but now it is the only way we travel,” noted one respondent, while another said, “I never used private aviation before COVID…Now I will not fly commercial.” A third newcomer added, “COVID has allowed me to justify using private flights. The convenience and efficiency have caused me to consider purchasing a jet for regular use.”
Responses also underlined the serious nature of how respondents viewed their choice. “My wife made me do it. I’m not joking. I’m glad she did,” said one subscriber, while two others cited relatives who had died from the coronavirus.
The survey was conducted online from Sept. 18-22, 2020, via Survey Monkey to subscribers of Private Jet Card Comparisons, a buyer’s guide that enables users to compare over 250 private aviation membership options so they can find the programs that best fit their needs in minutes, saving weeks and hours of research.
For the battered hospitality industry, there is also some possibly good news. Of those respondents who will be visiting Florida, while 75% will be staying in homes they own, 30% say they will be staying at resorts. Similarly, while 79% of those traveling to Mountain Destinations have second homes, 37% will stay at a resort.
Many newcomers expressed that their private aviation usage will likely continue in a post-COVID-19 world. However, a second silver lining could be more users that normally split flights between private jets and commercial airlines may be rethinking that approach.
“We were already using private aviation for 75% to 85% of our travel. Because of COVID-19, we will now do 100% of our travel via private aviation,” said one respondent.
“Candidly, I think your survey touched one a key point that is hot off the press – lack of direct flights due to a cutback in routes. Some routes that I had two direct flights, now have zero,” said another subscriber.
He continued, “Personally, I have little issue with the actual commercial flight. It’s the time in the airports that I am trying to minimize and of course the associated time efficiency. Your survey was focused on a short duration – Sept through December 2020. I would forecast an increase of 50 percent of private travel in 2021 for us – both business and personal.”
Another said, “Glad I started using private aviation several years ago.”
Airline executives say they don’t expect schedules to return to pre-COVID levels until 2024.
“Our business is down versus a year ago 70%…We’ve been a pretty stable week to week for the last couple months… I don’t see that improving (for a long period),” Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines told CNBC earlier today.