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MEBAA (Middle East & North Africa Business Aviation Association)
MEBAA (Middle East & North Africa Business Aviation Association)
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US makes modest flight hour gains as Europe slips back
As virus concerns mount, European business jet activity has slipped back as October progresses. Leisure demand is dimming, and corporate travel is not yet coming back to the market. Hours are down 17 per cent.

Global business aviation activity is down by 16 per cent in the first three weeks of October 2020 compared to same period in 2019. The trend remains far more resilient than for commercial airlines, which have seen a drop of 57 per cent in October YOY, a deficit of 933,000 sectors versus October 2019.

WingX MD Richard Koe comments: “Increasing efforts to suppress a winter virus wave are blunting flight recovery in Europe, with some notable country and airport exceptions. In the US, trends are improving modestly, and Florida continues to be the ballast, with charter demand pretty robust throughout the country. Outside the core markets, activity trends are 20% below, with exceptions like China. But even there, flight hours are trending well below last year.”

According to WingX's weekly Global Market Tracker, in the year to date, the respective business aviation and airline trends are showing 24 per cent and 52 per cent deficits versus 2019. Regionally, Europe has stronger trends in business aviation than the US, but this month the two are converging as Europe weakens and the US modestly improves. Asia is relatively stable at 10 points below normal, whilst flights out of Latin America and Africa are trailing some 20 per cent below normal.

As virus concerns mount, European business jet activity has slipped back as October progresses. As predicted, leisure demand is dimming, and corporate travel is not yet coming back to the market. Rolling average trends in sectors flown have declined five per cent during the first three weeks of October. Flight hours are down by 17 per cent, and for sectors over three hours, activity is down by 33 per cent. For these longer sectors the decline has been most severe from Spain, United Kingdom and France at over 40 per cent in October 2020 compared to October 2019. There are some exceptions, with October YOY growth in long sectors flown to and from Turkey, Cyprus, Greece and Portugal.

Shorter sectors of less than three hours are most robust, with a less than 10 per cent decline in the first three weeks of October. Some countries have seen an increase YOY in these sectors, notably Italy, Turkey, Austria, Russia and Sweden, whereas from France and Spain even short sectors are trailing by over 20 per cent, and from UK and Netherlands there have been more than 40 per cent drops. The UK is now the European back marker, with flights trending down by 32 per cent in October YOY and by 41 per cent for the period since March this year. So far in October, the London area has had the biggest decline in business aviation, with Luton activity down by 50 per cent, Farnborough by 37 per cent and Stansted by 33 per cent. Biggin Hill and Oxford are the outliers, with both airports seeing growth in YOY activity this month.

North America, including Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, is maintaining its trends over the last couple of months, with flights down by 16 per cent. There is considerable divergence, however, with Mexico still 50 per cent below normal and similarly severe declines being seen in Bermuda, Bahamas and other parts of the Caribbean. The US, with an 88 per cent share of regional flight activity, has an October activity trend of -14 per cent, with a small but consistent improvement coming since September. Charter demand is buoying the market, with branded charter sectors down by only seven per cent, and charter hours up YOY versus October 2019. Fractional operations are also improving, with activity down five per cent this month. The big decline is in private operations, which also includes corporate flight departments. This points to well-known weakness in business travel.

Regionally in the US, the varying pattern of activity favours a few states, with flights out of Florida up by nine per cent and Colorado getting 20 per cent more visitors this month versus last year. Arizona, South Carolina and Oregon are also seeing more business aviation activity YOY. California is inching back to normality, with flight sectors down by 10 per cent, half the deficit we saw in September. The north east US is also finally improving, with flights out of New York down by 13 per cent and flight hours down just four per cent. New Jersey remains a back marker, with flights down more than 40 per cent.

At an airport level, regional trends are reflected at Teterboro, still the busiest airport but with flights trending down 54 per cent, Dulles trailing by 37 per cent and McCarran likewise. This contrasts with strong growth in YOY business jet and prop departures from Florida's leading airports, namely Palm Springs, Miami-Opa Locka and Naples. Scottsdale and Salt Lake City continue their growth and this month Van Nuys is also up.

Outside Europe and North America, there continues to be a mixed picture, with big declines in India and Saudi Arabia, and gains for Qatar and Nigeria. China has witnessed an increase of 22 per cent in sectors flown this month, although flight hours are still down close to 20 per cent. Across all these countries, the best performing aircraft segments are turboprops and very light jets, with activity 10 per cent off. Light jet activity is down 18 per cent this October, with midsize activity down 20 per cent. Super midsize activity has slipped back this month, with flights down 34 per cent, but heavy jet activity is holding up at 26 per cent below. Ultra-long range jets are flying 34 per cent fewer sectors this month, although flight hours are down by over 40 per cent.

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