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Business Air News Bulletin
Business Air News Bulletin
The monthly news publication for aviation professionals.
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Flight demand in Europe could ‘wilt’ after summer
Even though there has been less support from leisure travellers, business aviation recovery has not significantly relapsed as we move from summer into autumn, says WingX. Charter might salvage the figures in Europe.

The recovery in business jet traffic at this point in autumn 2020 appears to be hitting a ceiling of around 85 per cent of comparable 2019 activity. That equates to a deficit of about 50,000 fewer business jet sectors since the start of September. Including turboprops, just over 550,000 hours have been operated in that period, 18 per cent fewer YOY, according to figures researched by WingX.

Around 80 per cent of the active fleet has been operational. Business aviation continues to be more resilient than scheduled airlines, for which activity is dropping below 50 per cent of normal, with more slowdown to come as various carriers announce cutbacks in activity. Cargo operations are trending globally at around 95 per cent of comparable 2019 activity.

The two key business jet markets in terms of activity, North America and Europe, which generated 90 per cent of all sectors in the last six weeks, are both trending 20 per cent under in terms of flight hours. Add in turboprops and Europe is doing rather better, with flights down by 11 per cent versus a 19 per cent decline in North America. Business jet activity is above 90 per cent of normal levels for Asia, although flight hours are down 28 per cent, which underlines the loss of inter-regional connections. Flight hours are also trending down a little in South America and Oceania, and by almost 20 per cent in Africa, but sectors are actually up YOY in all three regions in the last four weeks.

Within the United States, flight activity is increasing, as it usually does coming into October, with seven day rolling trends reaching their highest point since mid-March. With just over 7,900 sectors flown daily in the first week of this month, that compares with barely 2,500 daily sectors during the April low point. And there are some US states that have increased flight activity since August; flights out of Colorado and Florida up by more than five per cent versus last year, and activity out of Arizona and South Carolina is back to normal. But demand in the big markets of Texas, California, New York appears to be gummed up between 15 per cent and 20 per cent below normal. Flight activity in New Jersey continues to stagnate at 50 per cent below normal.

Across the US, demand is favouring smaller jets, with the very light and light jet segments at 90 per cent of normal. Super-mid and midsize jets are 15 per cent under, but turboprop activity is wilting and now 20 per cent behind. Ultra-long range sectors are down 23 per cent, with ULR flight hours down by 36 per cent. Bizliner flight hours are down by 60 per cent compared to last year. There is variation within segments, with resilient single-digit declines for Phenom 300, Nextant, Citation Ultra, CJ4, and PC-12 activity. Challenger 600 and Gulfstream V/550 hours are down more than 30 per cent. Across the whole fleet, Charter demand is most buoyant, trending 11 per cent below since August, and just five per cent down in hours compared to private and corporate flight departments, whose activity is almost 25 per cent below normal.

In Europe, the overall recovery in terms of all business jet and prop activity is healthier than in the United States, at 11 per cent below normal since August. But trends are clearly weakening in the last six weeks, with a daily average of 2,339 sectors at the end of August falling to 1,782 in the first week of October. The biggest deterioration is in France, which was up YOY In August, but since then has seen activity trend down by almost 30 per cent. A much weaker recovery in the UK has relapsed to 30 per cent below normal. And Spain, where activity was briefly back up in early July, is also now seeing activity at just 70 per cent of normal. Austria has somehow maintained YOY growth since June, and since mid-summer both Turkey and Russia have actually seen more sectors than usual.

Domestic travel demand is much stronger than international trips in Europe, for obvious reasons. Germany is the stalwart in this regard, with traffic holding up at slightly higher than YOY levels since August. Flights within Italy and Sweden are also up. Most of the growth in business jet traffic in Russia and Turkey is on domestic itineraries. The busiest international flow is UK-Italy, this activity is higher than in comparable 2019. Olbia shows up here, with departures up by 45 per cent YOY. Flights between the UK and France are at half normal volumes, and Le Bourget departures are down more than 30 per cent. Other leading airports are seeing similarly negative trends; Luton, Farnborough, Nice, Geneva. Biggin Hill, Munich and Vienna are outliers, with traffic volume close to normal for this time of year.

WingX MD Richard Koe comments: “It's encouraging that the recovery has not significantly relapsed as we move from summer to autumn, despite much less support from leisure travellers. The US market is behind the European curve on the pandemic, with opening-up in Florida now releasing pent-up demand, whereas the north-east region is still restricted and activity well below normal. European activity shows more signs of wilting now we're out of the summer season, but as in the US, the charter market is continuing to be relatively resilient.”

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