Charter Operators See Renewed Interest During Volcanic Disruptions

 - May 21, 2010, 5:46 PM

The recent, and potentially ongoing, disruption to European air transport caused by volcanic ash has focused customers’ minds on the potential value of executive charter flights, according to a new survey by UK operator London Executive Aviation. LEA’s survey showed clients keen to turn to business aviation to fulfill travel plans that airlines dealing with huge backlogs of stranded passengers could not meet. It also revealed that the continuing strike action at British Airways also is stimulating interest in charter alternatives.

More generally, the survey revealed the desire to save time as the main motivation for travelers to turn to private charter services, according to just over 90 percent of respondents to LEA’s 2010 Business Travel Survey. The survey identified privacy as the second most important factor among just under 50 percent of respondents, who were all business jet passengers or flight bookers. Security was also a commonly identified consideration.

Overall, just under 35 percent of respondents said that they intend to book private jets for routine business travel this year, as opposed to just them only in exceptional situations such as the volcanic ash crisis. Just over 58 percent of those questioned for the LEA survey indicated that they generally need an aircraft able to seat between two and four passengers. LEA operates a mixed fleet including six Cessna Citation Mustangs, as well as larger Dassault Falcon 900EX and Embraer Legacy models.

Leading charter brokers have also reported an uptick in demand for private and executive flights during the early months of this year. “There is definitely a recovery,” Air Partner sales director David Macdonald told AIN. “We have seen business users coming back since late last year as deals have started to happen again.”

Macdonald maintained that demand for leisure and private flying has also held up fairly well. “People have been sticking with private aviation but maybe cutting back a bit [on flights] and using it when it is most warranted, and clients are certainly more discerning on prices,” he explained. Nonetheless, UK-based Air Partner has seen a 5-percent drop out rate from its Jet Card block charter program. The company has seen an increase in business in Russia since opening an office in Moscow.

Neil Harvey, executive aviation director at Hunt & Palmer, also confirmed the recovery trend. “Demand in markets like the U.S. is certainly a lot better than it was last year and regular charter clients are coming back and are doing more flying,” he said. The UK-based broker has also seen strengthening market conditions in both Asia and parts of Europe.

Harvey estimated that demand for charter flights in the early months of this year has been about 10 to 12 percent up on the equivalent periods last year. He acknowledged that over capacity has been a factor with owners who have been unable to sell aircraft opting to charter for reduced rates, but he indicated that the tide could now be turning in this respect. “We are only just past the point where the market has stopped getting worse and we are no longer looking over the edge of the cliff because operators have made changes and are now in reasonably good shape,” he concluded.