This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.
As the globe enters unprecedented times during the Covid-19 crisis, the rapid plunge of aircraft operations has been “swift and dramatic,” aviation data provider Argus said. Recovery in business aviation operations will be predicated on how swiftly top business aviation markets such as Texas, Florida, and Georgia can rebound following the peak of the crisis, Argus added.
The aviation data and research specialist pointed to its data showing that U.S. business aviation activity was down 30 percent in March, saying this is an even more precipitous drop, given activity was down just 5 percent in the first 10 days of the month. From March 11-17, Argus recorded 56,154 business aviation flights. That dropped to 28,899 a week later, or some 46.8 percent down.
“Over the last four weeks, we have watched normal life come to halt across the planet, and business aviation has not been immune to these changes,” Argus added. “We’re now seeing activity levels that are closer to Christmas day activity, rather than one of the busiest months on the calendar.”
The first double-digit year-over-year drop occurred on March 15, when activity was down 13 percent. “Since that date, positive cases of Covid-19 have risen sharply, along with subsequent shelter-in-place orders, and activity has dropped accordingly.”
Argus is predicting a weekday low of 3,000 but said it may drop that projection further to 2,000 or so as a bottom. “Given the importance that Washington has placed on air travel, and the overall logistical nightmare of shutting it all down, it does not seem likely that we will reach a day of zero operations,” the data provider added.
Looking ahead, Argus said the longer the stay-at-home orders stay in place, the more difficult restart will be. “The longer companies are placed on hold burning through cash, the longer it will take to restart. Even the airlines, while bigger and different than business aviation, have stated it takes time to reposition crews, airplanes, and restart their business model.”
Business aviation is more agile and can respond faster, but Argus still anticipates a lethargic demand in the immediate weeks after peak. “But after that, all bets are off.”
It predicts a return of around 50 percent activity in April based on weekend demand, when traffic is already lighter. “We expect most initial business-flying patterns might be relative to business survival mode. Therefore, it is likely we will see more accelerated activity than expected on the first few weekends, as companies pursue low hanging fruit to get their businesses restarted.”
However, it sees a gradual return after that, reaching about 80 percent within a few weeks. Argus predicts April activity to be down 43.8 percent year-over-year but could reach 60 percent if lockdowns remain throughout the month. Traffic will be down more in the first 14 days of the month—by as much as 61 percent—with the latter half at 28 percent, the analyst said.
It expects this will be predicated on regions of the country opening, and believes hard-hit areas such as New York, Washington, and California are unlikely to be part of the initial recovery for business aviation. This is important, Argus points out, because California was the top state for business aviation activity in 2019, while New York-area airport, Teterboro, was among the top for traffic.
Argus suggested that the industry will need to focus on other top regions, such as Texas, Florida, and Georgia. “Those three states combined for 21 percent of all business aviation activity in 2019. If those three states come back online within the first weeks, following the peak, then our recovery could be faster, but if they lag, the overall industry is going to lag with it."