As the world continues to battle the challenges of COVID-19, recent data proves that many businesses and individuals are turning to private aviation for a safer way to fly. The bottom line: private aviation and the use of jet cards are on the rise again, especially compared to commercial flights.
It is true, numbers are up since the onset of the pandemic, but the industry still has a way to go to fully recover. FlightAware CEO, Daniel Baker stated, “On Saturday, June 20, Business Aviation traffic surpassed 2019 numbers for the first time since the initial decline with 2.5% more flights than the same day last year. Weekday recovery still has ground to make up but continues to trend upward.”
The private aviation industry partly ascribes this steady increase to first-time users seeking avoidance of the many touchpoints associated with commercial flying, according to recent data released by McKinsey. The figures show that prior to COVID-19, 90% of individuals who could afford private aviation simply do not use it. However, this is all changing. The McKinsey report indicates that this population is now turning to private aviation as a trusted travel solution, resulting in an increase of new customer acquisition. Companies such as Sentient and Air Partner are reporting increased demand and more inquiries.
This increase is also helped by the detailed list of new health protocols and safety standards set in place by the FAA and CDC for private aviation, and further measure adopted by jet card companies. It has become apparent that travelers who have the means, now prefer to fly private. This is happening for several reasons, namely, the use of quieter private terminals (FBOs) and the ability to personally select your own travel companions, greatly reducing the exposure to others.
The following are a series of charts illustrating the great decline in April 2020 and steady comeback to date. Take note of the chart comparing private to commercial. The data is clear: private is bouncing back much faster than commercial.
The following graph shows the number of fractional flights per day, including jet card related flights on fractional fleets. The graph, provided by Argus, indicates fractional jet flights on the rise after record lows in April. Although seem to have leveled out a bit through July 2020, they are still reporting larger numbers than commercial aviation.
Private aircraft supporting jet card flights could be from either charter fleets (on part 135 certificates) or from fractional fleets (under part 91k of the FAA regulations). Overall charter activity in June 2020 (part 135) was down 19%, and fractional (part 91k) was down 25%, compared to June 2019. The biggest drops were in large, long range jets, which can be used to fly internationally. But smaller light jets, used for domestic flights, showed a smaller decline, so their use is bouncing back faster.
In contrast, the activity in June 2020 compared to May of 2020 was up significantly. Charter is up 43% and fractional is up 56% - as shown in the graph above.
The following set of charts and graphs, courtesy of FlightAware, make clear comparisons of travel in 2019 versus 2020 for both business aviation and commercial aviation. The overlapping graphs show promising data that air travel in the private sector, including jet card flights, is slowly returning to a comparable frequency with the pre-COVID numbers in 2019. In comparison, commercial traffic continues to struggle.
It is fair to say, that COVID-19 has changed the world and possibly the way many look at aviation and safer travel options. Private aviation continues to meet the needs of business and private travelers alike, offering more health and safety advantages in this current environment. For instance, private aviation permits a “controlled” travel scenario allowing patrons to hand-select fellow passengers, and it provides much quieter, private terminals. With commercial airlines cutting flights, schedules, and routes, the private sector has been able to fill in the gaps and continue to soar. We will continue to monitor the trends and report on our findings, as things continue to change.