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Work from home initiatives mean aircraft stay grounded
COVID-19 has Europe in its grip once more as we head into winter, and this takes a toll on the region's charter flights. The UK is 41 per cent behind where it was this time last year, and Germany is 32 per cent down.

Just under 150,000 business aviation flights were operated in the first half of November, 20 per cent fewer than in the comparable period of November 2019, according to WingX's weekly Global Market Tracker. Having sustained a recovery of 85 per cent of normal activity since the summer, demand for flights has subsided in the face of renewed virus concerns and travel restrictions.

The rolling seven-day average activity is trending 16 per cent under the volumes in February this year, and is now 12 per cent below the post-March high point in the recovery, but at 11,515 flights per day is still way above the 3,700 trough in demand in mid-April. Also, business aviation activity since the spring has seen a 30 per cent drop compared to 2019, which is substantial but relatively small compared to the declines of over 60 per cent activity in global scheduled aviation activity.

North America, which is seeing 75 per cent of global business aviation flights this month, is trending down by 23 per cent, clearly a relapse on 16 per cent negative trends in October. The US market is doing slightly better, being behind by 22 per cent YOY with activity steady since the big post-election dip at the start of this month. Florida continues to be the hub for flights and also the most resilient US state, with 13,000 departures so far this month, trending down by nine per cent YOY. Flight activity in Texas is down 20 per cent in November, but improving since the start of the month and well above the trough this summer. California is doing better at 14 per cent below the YOY trend. Other US states are generally seeing declines of 20 per cent this month, with Colorado and Arkansas being two exceptions with close to normal flight activity.

The US charter market continues to provide ballast to flight volumes, with activity showing 83 per cent of normal demand. Declines are still very severe at main hubs like Teterboro, McCarran and Oakland airports, but Van Nuys is only five per cent off, and a number of airports in Florida saw strong growth, both at Fort Lauderdale, Miami-Opa Locka and from Naples. Charter flights from Scottsdale, Arizona were up by over 50 per cent YOY. The busiest airport pairs for charter connections with Scottsdale this month have been McCarran, Van Nuys, John Wayne, San Diego, Tucson and Salt Lake City. Two thirds of all charter flights have been for sectors under two-hours. Light and midsize jets such as the Eclipse, Hawker Premier and Citation X have been very busy, but so too some heavier jets, notably Challenger 850 and Challenger 600 aircraft.

European business jet and prop activity is trending down 21 per cent so far this month, a far cry from the near-normal in August and the mild declines in September and October. Indeed, the trending seven-day average activity has fallen sharply from the start of this month, from 1,500 flights a day to 1,200 daily take-offs in the last week. The UK is at the back; its flights are down by 41 per cent compared to November last year, with Italy and Belgium almost as badly affected. As virus concerns increase, flight activity in Germany has collapsed by 32 per cent. Spain, Norway and Sweden are less affected. Russia, Ukraine, Greece and Turkey have seen an increase in YOY traffic. The country flows generating this growth have been mainly domestic, but connections are also well up between Russia and UAE, Latvia, Albania and Cyprus.

The charter market in Europe remains relatively resilient at just 16 per cent off in terms of sectors flown and only 10 per cent down in terms of flight hours. There has been substantial growth in charter activity between Germany, UK, Spain and Switzerland, although the busiest domestic charter market, the UK, is still down 39 per cent YOY. The Citation Mustang is the second busiest aircraft type flying charters, with hours up by five per cent compared to November last year. The Legacy 600 is also flying slightly more than last year. The Hawker Beechjet/Nextant and Hawker 700-900 platforms are both flying more YOY. Four of the five busiest airports for charter activity this month, namely Vnukovo, Biggin Hill, Zurich and Nice, are showing YOY increases but charters from Farnborough are down by 25 per cent.

Outside Europe and the US, the Asia Pacific region is seeing most stability, with the turboprop market back to normal levels in Australia. Business jet activity across all other world regions is down by 25 per cent this month, with flight hours down 40 per cent or more in Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Canada, but only 16 per cent below in Brazil, and actually increasing YOY in Nigeria, Indonesia and UAE. In China, business jet sectors are well up but hours are still trailing YOY, with much fewer long sectors. Only eight per cent of all business jet flights in these regions were charters, with these declining by 20 per cent so far in November. The busiest business jet this month is the Challenger 600, with sectors down by 14 per cent YOY.

Richard Koe, WingX MD, comments: “Under sustained pressure from lockdowns and WFH policy, business aviation activity is ebbing, but not buckling, with pockets of growth and a durable demand for charter flights, especially on light jets. It may be that as the leisure market fades into the early winter, some of the corporate demand is starting to come back.”

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