Business aviation traffic is outperforming the airlines as the sector continues to bounce back from Covid. New data released by analysts WingX Advance showed that the 247,668 business jet and turboprop sectors logged during the first 16 days of May represented a 13 percent improvement over May 2019, and a 21 percent uptick compared with the same period last year. By contrast, scheduled carrier passenger flights remained 23 percent down on May 2019 levels, albeit these were 35 percent better than May 2021.
However, behind these numbers, there are signs that economic headwinds could overpower tailwinds. “There’s no doubt that business aviation is still out of sync with the global economic situation,” WingX managing director Richard Koe told AIN. “At some point, there will be a reset as there are clearly dark clouds ahead.”
For now though, in the face of alarming inflation and insecurity caused by Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, demand for private aviation shows no signs of cooling. In the week beginning May 9, global flight numbers continued to grow at a rate of 2 percent over the previous week. Commercially certified operations, including those conducted under Part 135 and Part 91K rules, accounted for 48 percent of all sectors flown last week.
However, there have been significant geographic variations in these trends. Traffic in Africa and the Middle East climbed by more than 20 percent, and in Europe by 7 percent. This contrasted with a sharp drop in South America and only a modest 2 percent uptick in North America.
So far this year, business aviation sectors are 15 percent above the same January through to mid-May period in 2019, and this number spikes to 20 percent if turboprop aircraft are set to one side.
“Even as economic alarm bells start ringing, business jet activity continues to fly well above pre-pandemic trends, with May year-on-year only slightly below the comparable year-to-date trends,” said Koe. “There are signs of tapering growth in business jet charter activity, but the upswing in corporate and private flight departments appears to have absorbed this in terms of overall growth.”
In Europe, the return of events—including the Spanish Grand Prix, Cannes Film Festival, Roland Garros tennis tournament in Paris, and EBACE in Geneva—have combined to drive business jet activity to levels that WingX described as an all-time high. However, flights into most European countries from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine are severely diminished in the wake of the war and sanctions against associates of the Putin administration. In so far as business jets are operating international flights out of Russia, these are generally heading to the Balkan states, Central Asia, and Turkey.
In North America, however, charter and fractional ownership flights are ahead of corporate flight department activity. Charter bookings are 31 percent up from pre-Covid May 2019.
On the less positive side of the business aviation data ledger, the Canadian and Mexican markets are at least 20 percent in deficit compared with 2019. Worst still is the situation in China, where tight Covid restrictions continue and where business jet departures so far in May are 65 percent below the same month in 2021 and 48 percent below 2019.