European business aviation flights declined almost 4 percent in the first four months of 2013 over the same period the prior year, according to data released at EBACE by Avinode, the online air charter market maker based in Gothenburg, Sweden. The figures provided a sobering introduction to Avinode’s Business Intelligence presentation and panel discussion, which brought charter operators and brokers to the dais for a frank discussion of air charter in Europe.
“We know times are tough,” said moderator Brian Humphries, president of EBAA, encouraging audience members to participate in the discussion. “We’re all experts in our fields, so please don’t hold back. Nothing is too off the wall.”
Panelists included Andreas Becker, founder and CEO, GAS German Aviation Service; Mark Briffa, CEO, Air Partner; Christophe Gibert, director of Charter Sales, ExecuJet Europe; Diego Moser, co-owner and managing director, Sur Aviation; and Avinode managing director Oliver King, who presented the data that framed the conversation.
Avinode’s data indicates that business jet departures from January to April of this year were 3.8 percent lower than the same period in 2012, continuing a decline observed last year. Analysis of Eurocontrol data shows a 4.3-percent decline in intra-Europe traffic (which comprises 74 percent of the Continent’s business jet movements), though flights from Europe to other regions of the world showed a year-over-year increase of 3.8 percent.
Through the panelists’ comments and interchanges with audience members, four key problem areas confronting European charter emerged:
The economy: Europe’s economic doldrums have dampened both the means and the reasons for chartering among those who use private aviation for business.
Image: Whether due to negative portrayals in the media or providers’ own advertising campaigns, or the reticence of charterers to speak publicly about its real utility, many potential clients regard charter as a wasteful mode of transportation and a luxury suitable only for celebrities and the independently wealthy.
Pricing: The cost of charter, ever an issue among potential charter customers worldwide, faces additional pressures in Europe. Taxes, high fees and other charges make charter here more expensive than in the U.S., for example, where charter activity is slowly but steadily rising. Relatively low availability of charter aircraft (exacerbated by the number of owners who withhold their aircraft from the market) and unrealistic expectations about potential revenue from owners add to upward pressure on pricing.
Airline competition: Airlines have upped their first-class and business-class products, and high-value passengers are often accommodated in boarding commercial flights without appearing at the airport well in advance of departure time, lowering the advantages of the cosseting and get-to-the-airport-and-go pitch of air charter.
Humphries said next week the EBAA would be hosting a day-long gathering of 30 CEOs who had never used business aviation to give them a first-hand look at its realities and benefits. That may give the organization new insights into why people who could benefit from business aviation don’t use it, as well as ways to break through such barriers, he said.