This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.
The business aviation market is starting to rapidly take off, but looming talent shortages and supplier issues cast uncertainty on that recovery, business aviation experts said on Wednesday during a National Air Transportation Association webinar, "Air Charter Roundtable: Maximizing Fleet Utilization in a Complex Market.” NorthStar Group managing director Craig Picken noted how 2020 brought “mediocre” results, but mid-January “was like a light switch went on and all of the sudden it came back. For me, 2021 has been on fire. Everyone wants it and wants it now.”
Picken, whose operation provides aviation and aerospace executive recruiting services, added that he is concerned that periods of massive overabundance are followed by periods of massive shortages. This is typically true in aviation as people have left the market, “You are seeing massive shortages,” he said.
He pointed to major airlines that offered incentives for its top-level, long-range aircraft pilots to retire. At the same time, flight training schools and the military slowed their supplies. “You just cut off the top and nothing is coming up the bottom. Now you just shrunk your labor pool,” Picken said.
As airlines begin to rehire, they will look to the ranks of corporate and charter pilots, he said, adding, “Even worse yet, they are looking at FlightSafety and saying, now let’s go hire instructors.”
At the same time, prices are going up. One potential client told Picken that if they couldn’t make $280,000 a year, they weren’t interested. He added that the aircraft maintenance side will see similar issues since those skills transfer cross-industry.
But at the same time, he said, “With this chaos, there is a lot of opportunities.” With the withdrawal of scheduled services, it is becoming more difficult to reach midsize markets, leading companies that have typically sought out airline service to turn to business aviation. He dubbed this the “pain in the neck factor.”
JetNet iQ creator/director Rollie Vincent agreed that the market is seeing strong signs of recovery, characterizing the situation as “euphoric” and saying, “If you are in the Part 135 world you are probably busy, you are probably busier than you’ve been in a long time, and you are also flying in some airports more often than in a long time.”
This is boosting the light jet and turboprop sectors, which hadn’t before fully recovered from the crash of 2008/2009. But those sectors play a role in a thriving market focused on domestic rather than international trips, he noted. In the U.S., business confidence is at the highest it’s been in more than a decade in light of forecasts of 6.4 percent economic growth. “That is like rocketship acceleration,” Vincent said. “We’re seeing very sharp growth here in 2021 and we’re very encouraged.”
Vincent added that the market is reacting in an opposite manner than with the 2008/2009 crash—preowned business aircraft inventory is low and transactions are up, he said.
However, Vincent also cautioned to watch for talent shortage and supplier issues as the industry strengthens. He expressed the belief that, even with a strong light-jet market, it would take a couple of years for the OEMs to recover “because supply chains have to come back and we have to bring talent back.”
The industry slowed down so quickly that it rapidly shed its talent and disrupted the supply chain, he added. “We need to bring people back into our industry who have either been scared off or fired off. We also need to find younger talent.”