Private jets are weathering Lockdown 2.0 but it's a mixed bag

By Doug Gollan, November 26, 2020

Charter and jet card flights are powering private aviation through a new wave of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, according to WingX

Global business aviation activity is trending down by 19% this November compared to last November, slightly weaker than the October YOY trend, according to WingX.

This month’s trend is in line with the overall decline in the last six months. Private aviation is still holding up much better than scheduled airlines where the activity is down by 62% YOY for the same period.

Private jet and turboprop activity picked up in the last 10 days, with a rolling 7-day average close to regaining the post-pandemic peak from mid-October.

“Business aviation activity has picked up a little this week, mainly in the US, post-election, with Florida very much the regional hub. In Europe the trends are downwards, with the UK and Germany particularly affected, although Turkey and Russia are seeing record levels of activity. Next week we could see positive effects from the lightening of restrictions in Europe, and some boost from Thanksgiving travel in the US,” said Richard Koe, managing director of WingX.

North America has slightly weaker trends than Europe with a 22% decline versus 18%, but converging as the US market picks up and European activity flags. Asia-Pacific is the next busiest region, 10% off normal in private aviation sectors this month, but 30% below in terms of flight hours.

In the United States, the dip in activity during the presidential elections and immediate aftermath has made way for a stronger recovery. Charter operators are providing the ballast, with flight hours just 3% below the comparative 2019 period.

Fractional operations are substantially recovered from the summer, with flights within 15% of the YOY trend for November. Private and corporate flight departments are still lagging almost 30% below par.

Trends in terms of aircraft segment correlate to size, with the smaller jets flying more: very light and entry-level jets are 10% off, midsize and super-mid jets are flying 15% below, heavy and ultra-long-range jet activity is almost 30% down on last year. Aircraft types with activity above 90% of normal include the Citation Latitude, Nextant 400XT, Phenom 300.

In terms of international connections from the US, Mexico is the primary destination, with flights down only 3% this month. In contrast, flights from the US to Canada are down by 54%. Bahamas traffic is also heavily depressed, 28% below normal for November. But flights to Puerto Rico are up 40%, and several Caribbean destinations have seen big growth, notably Turks and Caicos, US Virgin Islands, Sint Maarten. Further afield, transatlantic flying is still in the trough, connections down by 75%.

Within the US, Florida is the busiest State this month, with flight sectors down by only 2% YOY. The only US State with growth compared to last year is Arizona, with arrivals up by 1%. Big markets such as Texas and California have seen recoveries stagnate around 15% below, and the metropolitan East Coast remains most affected, with New Jersey’s flight activity still 50% down.

In Europe, November has seen a steady decline in business aviation flight activity, unsurprisingly reflecting the escalation in travel restrictions across the region. Rolling 7-day average daily activity has slumped 30% in the last 3 weeks, with some countries seeing their largest declines since the Spring.

Notably, flight activity out of the UK is down by 43%. Out of Luton, formerly the busiest business aviation hub in the UK, outbound flights are down almost 60%. Flight activity in Germany has also been significantly constrained by Lockdown 2.0, sectors down by 33% this month. Spain is less affected, flights down by 9%, and activity is close to normal in Sweden and Portugal. The outliers are Russia, Turkey, and Greece, all of which are seeing more flight activity this November than last year.

Charter activity is holding up better in Europe, with sectors trending down by 17%, hours by 10%, compared to private and corporate flight departments, activity trailing more than 25%.

Several countries have seen strong gains in charter activity this month, including Russia, Turkey, Portugal, Czech Republic, and Cyprus. The busiest city connections, all growing YOY, are from Moscow to Dubai, Belgrade, Larnaca, and Nice.

Charter flights between Berlin and Munich are well up. Barcelona and Madrid still rank as the most popular charter destinations, but activity is down 50%. The busiest charter aircraft in Europe is the Citation Mustang, with over 600 flights this month, only 3% off last year. Notably, the Embraer Legacy 600/650 platform has flown 3% more in November YOY.

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