VLJs Rebound in Europe

 - October 3, 2013, 1:45 AM

VLJ activity has rebounded strongly in Europe, at the expense of traditional light jets such as Citations and Learjets, according to speakers at the annual Business Aircraft Europe event, held at London Biggin Hill Airport on September 11 and 12. The event grew out of Light Jets Europe, which started in 2007 but was renamed after the VLJ (very light jet) sector nosedived with much of the rest of the industry when the global financial crisis hit five years ago.

The midsize and light jet segments experienced “a huge loss of traffic,” according to analysis by Hamburg, Germany-based consultancy WingX Advance. Richard Koe, managing director, told attendees that for the month of August “VLJs were up 26 percent–so they are clearly gobbling up light jet territory.” Bizliner flights were up 22 percent on the same period last year, he added, although that segment of the market had proved the more resilient during the downturn.

Giving more detail from his traffic analysis, Koe said that in the 2008-12 period, VLJ activity had increased to 33,000 flying hours from 4,000, while light jets had gone to 67,000 hours from 127,000. “So VLJs have gone from 3.6 percent of the market to 33 percent ,” while also seeing a 35-percent increase in productivity per aircraft. Aircraft such as the Embraer Phenom 100 and Cessna Citation Mustang have done well at the expense of the Citation XLS and Hawker 700, said Koe.

Those operating VLJs in Europe include London Executive Aviation, Blink and GlobeAir. Patrick Margetson-Rushmore, CEO of London Executive Aviation, told the Biggin Hill audience that he views the Mustangs as the weaker part of the company’s fleet. Blink managing director Cameron Ogden and GlobeAir’s Bernard Fragner reported that they are pleased with demand. Synergy Aviation managing director Glen Heavens said that the operating costs (EASA regulations, maintenance and fuel) of larger aircraft pose a significant problem, and that this, combined with more cost-conscious customers, explains the success of smaller aircraft. “The big news is that the air-taxi market’s time might have come back,” said Koe.

Of the general economic situation Koe said, “We are still in a recession that began in 2009 and we are still in the second dip of that, which started in 2011. Business aviation is trending about 15 percent below the activity peak of 2007,” although he pointed out that the per-aircraft figure is “much higher…the utilization of aircraft is down by at least 25 percent as there are more aircraft and players in the market now.”

However, he added that “the latest data is not too bad,” with 17 of 37 European countries logging increases in activity over the past year. “Flights coming into Europe are down this year but August data shows they’re coming back. The problem is that the biggest markets–the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland–have 300 to 400 fewer flights per month this year, which is obviously quite serious.” Meanwhile, he said, the markets in Turkey and Ukraine were up 26 percent up in August this year compared with August last year. He also pointed to the “London microclimate,” in which the British capital is “slightly up” despite UK activity overall being well down on 2007 levels.

One key trend that Koe highlighted was the general decline in charter flight activity and the growth in private flights. “This suggests that the private market is more resilient, or potentially that there is more illegal charter going on.”