U.S. Bizav Flying Starts To Turn the Corner

 - May 22, 2020, 12:35 PM

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

Business aircraft flight activity in the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean is now on the upswing, passing a Covid-19-induced bottom last month, Argus International v-p of market intelligence Travis Kuhn said yesterday during a company-held webinar. May is expected to see what Kuhn described as the first-ever triple-digit month-over-month gain in flight activity, which he forecasts to be up 103 percent, though on a year-over-year basis will be down 44 percent.

“Importantly, that's a recovery of one-third of business aircraft activity losses seen since March 15,” the day that Covid-19 started to take a heavy toll on flying, he said. The first day since mid-March with more than 5,000 business aircraft departures was May 13, Kuhn noted, adding that he anticipates this segment to consistently top 6,000 flights daily early next month.

Argus forecasters also expect June to see a similar month-over-month recovery, while traffic is projected to fall 23 percent year-over-year. Starting in July, Kuhn then expects flight activity to start tracking with stock market gains/losses, “So the second-quarter financial results and how Wall Street reacts to them will be key to business aviation’s recovery in the second half.”

As Kuhn predicted last month, the top five states for business aviation departures—Florida, California, Texas, New Jersey, and Georgia—saw increases over the last month. Now, the next five busiest U.S. states for business aircraft activity—North Carolina, Colorado, Ohio, Tennessee, and Illinois—are now the ones to watch. These states historically account for about 13 percent of departures.

Part 135 activity is expected to recover faster than Part 91 or fractionals thanks to an influx of new private flyers looking for a safer way to travel in the post-Covid era. But by July, the operational categories should be back to normal levels—historically, Part 91 accounting for 50 percent of flying; Part 135, 36 percent; and fractionals, 14 percent.

Overall, Kuhn said U.S. business aircraft activity should recover in six to 12 months, while airlines will take longer at 12 to 18 months. However, recovery for international flying will be slower in both segments, he said.

October will be “the month” to watch in the U.S., as October is historically the busiest for flying activity. “Plus, we should see a boost from November elections. The more October is closer to 2019, the better this will bode for business aircraft flying in 2021," Kuhn concluded.