This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.
The latest global flight activity report from Jet Support Services (JSSI) underscored the heavy toll the Covid-19 pandemic has had on operations as business aviation utilization dropped to a record low in April, with flight hours falling 77.5 percent year-over-year.
“March flight hours saw the largest decline since the global financial crisis of 2008,” said JSSI president and CEO Neil Book. “April’s flight hours are the lowest we have on record, down more than 75 percent compared to April 2019 and demonstrating the true impact of global lockdown restrictions and border closures since their implementation.”
Across the JSSI portfolio, aircraft averaged 5.9 flight hours last month, and, compared with March, activity was down 69.3 percent, JSSI reported in its April 2020 Business Aviation Index.
New aircraft, those five years old or less, were the hardest hit, followed by aircraft between the ages of six and 10 years. Along with that, large-cabin aircraft saw the most precipitous drop month-over-month, plummeting 84.7 percent from March. Least impacted was helicopter activity, which slowed 27.5 percent month-over-month in April.
Not surprisingly, the healthcare industry marked the strongest flight hours in April. “This could allude to the utilization of these aircraft for air ambulance and medical supply transportation, a trend continued from our Q1 2020 analysis,” Book said. Even so, healthcare use was down 30.4 percent month-over-month. The power and energy segment, meanwhile, saw an 84.1 percent decline.
The Covid-19 pandemic significantly dampened operations in all regions: month-over-month decreases ranged from 48.5 percent in Asia-Pacific to 74.2 percent in Europe. Through the first four months of the year, flight activity is down an average of 27.2 percent year-over-year in every region.
“Asia-Pacific was the first region struck by Covid-19 and shut down the earliest. As the region has begun to reopen, flight hours in April have had a modest rebound,” Book noted, adding that activity is anticipated to slowly improve in May as restrictions begin to ease and borders reopen globally. “However, we simply do not know how long it will take to get back to 2018 and 2019 levels. The time to market with an effective treatment or vaccine will clearly be the driver of this timeline.”
Concerning to Book is the largest demographic of business jet owners is males over the age of 60 who are thus in the high-risk category for Covid-19. “I’ve had extensive conversations with clients who’ve said they are going to significantly reduce their flying because they simply will not be attending conferences or staying at hotels at least for now,” he said.
On the upside, though, is that JSSI is seeing a “significant number” of new clients moving into jet cards, charter, fractional, and even full ownership.
“For many businesses and individuals with the resources, the health risks associated with walking through a commercial airport with thousands of people and getting onto a commercial flight is simply too great,” Book added.