With a surge in the latter half of 2021, business aviation flight activity in North America sailed past 2020 levels by 40.9 percent and eclipsed pre-pandemic results in 2019 by 7.2 percent, according to Argus International’s 2021 Business Aviation Review. “We ended 2020 saying that it was a year unlike anything we had before and now we wrap up 2021 with the same thought but in a dramatically different way,” Argus reflected in its 2021 overview of TraqPak data, which tracks IFR business aircraft flights in North America.
While flight activity was up almost 41 percent year-over-year, flight hours similarly were up 42.3 percent from 2020 and 10.3 percent from 2019. These gains came primarily in the latter half of the year.
A slow January and February kept first-half flight activity down 1.2 percent from 2019 levels, even while up 42.8 percent from the first half of 2020, when much of the world paused in the early days of the pandemic. By March, however, flights edged past 2019 levels by a total of 19, Argus said, noting, this was the beginning of nine straight months exceeding 2019 activity.
Fractional operations saw the biggest bounce, with the number of flights up 51 percent and hours 48.9 percent higher in 2021. Part 135 activity increased by 44 percent and hours 46.5 percent over 2020 levels, and Part 91 flights and hours saw gains of 35.4 percent and 37 percent, respectively.
Argus, however, called Part 91 operations “a work in progress,” noting that it was the only of the three categories not to exceed 2019 levels for the year.
Large-cabin jets saw the greatest year-over-year increase in terms of flight hours, up 54.3 percent, while midsize jets climbed 48.3 percent and light jets rose by 41.4 percent. Meanwhile, midsize jets saw the biggest gains in number of flights, up 50.3 percent, followed by large-cabin and light jets, up 49.9 percent and 41.6 percent from 2020, respectively.
Turboprop operations were up across the board but trailed their jet counterparts with flight activity improving 28.1 percent and hours 28.6 percent over 2020.
Looking forward, Argus noted that “business aviation, particularly in North America, is in full growth mode” and forecasts flight hours in 2022 to surpass 2021 levels by 9.5 percent. This would push it past 2019 levels by 17.4 percent.
January was up 22 percent this year and Argus is projecting a 23.6 percent year-over-year jump this month, along with another 21.7 percent improvement in March before growth gradually slows throughout the remainder of the year.