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Business Air News Bulletin
Business Air News Bulletin
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Virus resurgence has knock-on effect for private flights
The US market has seen a sharp slowdown in business aviation traffic coming into December, with the strong Thanksgiving holiday travel period ended and travel restrictions tightening. Activity in Europe is down by a fifth.

The number of active business jet operators is down by 20 per cent this month, and the active fleet down by 14 per cent. But business aviation demand continues to hold up better than commercial aviation, with passenger airline traffic down 49 per cent so far in December. Since the start of November through to today, business aviation activity is trending down 17 per cent globally, compared to scheduled airlines whose sectors are down 50 per cent. Scheduled cargo airline activity is up seven per cent in that period.

According to WingX's weekly Global Market Tracker, 82,919 business aviation flights were operated in the first week of December, trending 24 per cent below the same period in 2019. Flight hours were similarly reduced, with these activity trends clearly deteriorating on the November YOY decline of 17 per cent, extending the drop off in global activity since the mid October.

The North American market has seen a sharp slowdown in business aviation traffic coming into December, with the strong Thanksgiving holiday travel period ended and travel restrictions tightening across much of the region as the virus picks up. At 27 per cent and 31 per cent below normal for the first week of December, flight activity in the US and Canada is at its lowest ebb since the spring. There is some resilience in business aviation aircraft deployment for cargo, ambulance and logistics purposes, and some shuttle operations are filling gaps created by reduced airline services, but all other operator types, including branded charter, are seeing declines of almost 30 per cent. The virus impact is matched in passenger airline traffic, which recovered to 67 per cent of normal during Thanksgiving but is down by 47 per cent so far in December.

The hardening of the second lockdown in the US has blunted flight activity across the country; no state has seen any growth so far this month, with busiest state Florida posting a 14 per cent drop off in departures. This brings Florida into line with Texas, where YOY trends have been gradually recovering. There is relatively resilient traffic in Arizona, Wyoming, Montana and Oregon, where traffic is within 10 per cent of normal. Flights flown within Oregon are up by 20 per cent, and there is a modest growth in activity between New York and Florida. Flights out of Naples and West Palm Beach airports are up this month compared to last year, and Scottsdale is maintaining its 2020 growth streak. In contrast, business aviation flights in New Jersey are back down below 50 per cent of normal for this time of year.

Business aviation flight activity in the European region is trending down by just under 20 per cent, modestly deteriorating from November. Having peaked at close to 2,500 flights a day back in August, activity then slowed to around 1,300 daily flights as lockdowns were reimposed from November. There has been some improvement since the start of this month, as restrictions alleviate in a few countries; daily flight activity is up 20 per cent in the UK since the start of December, although the UK is still seeing 37 per cent YOY deficit in flights, which compares to an 82 per cent decline in airline traffic in the same period. Of the other major European markets, France is showing some recovery, with flights down by 11 per cent; in November, business aviation activity within France was down by 21 per cent.

There are still some growth outliers in the European region, with increased business aviation activity sustained in Russia, Turkey and also Finland. In Turkey, a 14 per cent growth in flights in December is showing up on small jets and turboprops, such as the Learjet 45, King Air 200, Citation Excel and Citation Bravo. Also, the Global Express platform, including the Global 6500, is seeing more than double YOY activity from Turkey. The busiest connections are mostly domestic, such as flights between Antalya, Istanbul and Ataturk, with some growth in international connections with Tel Aviv and Tirana. Back in Western Europe, Zurich and Cologne airports are seeing growth in activity in the last week, Nice is close to normal, but other major airport activity is in retreat, with activity down by 60 per cent in Luton.

Outside North America and Europe, there is quite a bit of growth in the Southern Hemisphere, with business aviation departures well up in Australia, including Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. Also, there are some hotspots in the Middle East, notably Tel Aviv and Al Maktoum in Dubai. Flight activity is also up from Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro this month compared to last year, whereas Mumbai and Riyadh continue to see a lot less activity. Globally, these regions are seeing a lot less ultra long-range jet activity, whereas heavy jets are the busiest segment and flying more sectors YOY. This contrasts with Europe, where the busiest segment is the light jet, with charter hours up this month on the likes of the Citation Mustang and Phenom 300.

WingX MD Richard Koe comments: “The virus winter wave has headed west from Europe to North America and the consequences have catalysed more travel restrictions and a sharp reversal in the surge in business aviation activity we saw around Thanksgiving. Meanwhile in Europe there has been a tepid recovery in the run-up to Christmas, with many operators reporting strong bookings for holiday charters, particularly longer-sectors to warm-weather destinations.”

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