First Half of April Sees Further Steep Falls in Bizjet Flights

 - April 17, 2020, 9:33 AM
Austria-based charter operator GlobeAir reported a 2.8 percent increase in flights during March 2020, as it responded to demand for trips related to the Covid-19 pandemic, including customers moving between homes. [Photo: Globe Air]

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

Worldwide business jet flights dipped by as much as 79 percent in the first two weeks of April, according to new statistics published by data analyst WingX. For the U.S., the latest numbers indicated a worsening situation as data released by the company last week covering the first seven days of April showed a 60 percent drop compared with the same period in 2019.

According to WingX’s latest Global Market Tracker, published late on April 15, the whole of North America and Europe saw the highest levels of decline. However, in Asia and South America, the reduction varied between 65 and 70 percent, and flight activity out of China was down by 57 percent.

The new WingX data also showed flying for fractional ownership programs as falling somewhat more steeply than for aircraft management and charter operations. Despite the fact that business aircraft have been involved in supporting emergency medical missions, overall air ambulance flights fell 45 percent year-on-year.

In the first half of April, just under 1,000 business jets were recorded as active, compared with more than 4,000 in the same period of 2019. Despite the traffic decline, the U.S. was still technically the busiest country globally, with just under 18,000 business jet flights. The busiest country in Europe was Germany, with 757 flights, while activity in France, the UK, Spain, and Italy was down by more than 80 percent. Flights out of Russia were around 60 percent lower, but Australia has “only” seen its flight activity cut in half.

“It appears that the decline in business aviation activity has hit its trough in the first half of April, flying at around 20 percent of normal activity, rising towards 30 percent if we include turboprops where there is some resilience,” commented WingX managing director Richard Koe, while pointing out that airline flying is down by between 81 and 90 percent. “WingX expects business aviation activity to remain at around the current very low level for the rest of April with the prospect of a spike in demand coming in May as lockdown restrictions are lifted. The bad news is that it looks like the [Northern hemisphere] summer season, which is critical for business aviation, is going to be largely disrupted this year, with ongoing restrictions and canceled events suppressing a near-term recovery in flight demand.”

However, some individual charter operators claim to be bucking the dark big-picture trend. Europe-based GlobeAir today reported that it achieved a 2.8 percent increase in flights during March, compared with the same month last year. In part, the operator has kept itself busy by offering late-availability complimentary flights to medical personnel and government officials engaged in emergency relief work, as well as to some private travelers needing urgent repatriation. At the same time, it has flown revenue-generating flights for divorced parents needing to move children between their respective homes and other customers eager to relocate pets while living under lockdown rules.

GlobeAir, which is based in Austria, which this week lifted some lockdown restrictions, has introduced a 10-percent discount for flights booked online. The promotion gives customers flexibility in rescheduling departure dates as necessary and offers free cancellation insurance “for sudden changes of heart regarding one’s travel plans.”

The latest forward-looking demand indicators released on April 16 by charter marketplace Avinode showed a marginal uptick in trip requests in recent days, but an otherwise flat trend. For the following seven days, Avinode’s data showed overall global demand for departures during the rest of April at around 16 percent below the same dates in 2019, falling to 42 percent for May. The company’s outlook for April would be bleaker if not for the demand for intercontinental flights, offsetting decline in intra-European and U.S. domestic trip requests.

Unsurprisingly, the continued dip in demand is dragging down prices, according to Avinode. Its data shows a general decrease in hourly rates for light, super light, and midsize jets since the beginning of March and a “remarkable” 44-percent cut in rates for super-midsize aircraft. The company pointed out that lower fuel costs and decreased lead-times before departures will be reflected in the flight hour rate decline.

According to Harry Clarke, Avinode’s head of insight, early plans being forged to lift lockdown restrictions in some European countries have not been enough to spur many people to start making summer trip plans and the cancellation of major events, such as the Wimbledon tennis championship, has compounded the trend. “That demand is gone forever,” he stated. “Thinking positively, there could be some very high demand days in the latter half of 2020 as postponed events overlap with unaffected normal events.”