Following a surge in business jet demand over the Christmas holiday period, the year-on-year trend in global flight activity came in at around 11 per cent below December 2019, the best comparative performance since the pandemic broke out, according to WingX's weekly Global Market Tracker.
At its peak of just over 12,000 flights on 23 December, the rolling seven-day average daily activity surpassed the previous post-March high point. By contrast, scheduled airline traffic was down by 48 per cent this December. Since the pandemic, scheduled passenger movements are down by 63 per cent, whereas business aviation, including jets and props, flew 29 per cent less than in 2019 over the same period. Global cargo operations are up by six per cent since March and trended up by 16 per cent in December YOY.
WingX MD Richard Koe comments: “The first half of December was stagnant but the holiday period demonstrated the enduring demand for business aviation to reach leisure getaway destinations. This is obvious in the Caribbean for the US market. In Europe, the lockdowns have suppressed this pent-up demand to a large extent, with the ski season postponed at best. In Russia and Turkey, stronger flight activity suggests that business aviation is filling in gaps left by erosions in schedule services.”
Two thirds of worldwide business aviation activity in December originated in the US, with these flights down by 10 per cent YOY, an improvement on the 16 per cent YOY decline in November. Charter activity continued to be robust, with sectors down by seven per cent YOY and branded charter flight hours up by two per cent YOY. Aircraft management operations were also robust at just six per cent off, inflated by third party charters. Private operations are lagging at 17 per cent below normal, largely due to still-idle corporate flight departments. On a geographic basis, Florida shone as the busiest US state, with 12 per cent more flights than in December 2019. Flights into Arizona were up by 10 per cent YOY. California is the laggard, where continued lockdown measures have suppressed recovery at 80 per cent of normal. Texas got a lot closer to recovery in December, with departures down by six per cent YOY.
The driver for the Christmas holiday surge from the US was clearly demand for getaway locations. Flights from the US to Mexico were up by 17 per cent, and other Caribbean destinations saw a major rebound in US tourists: arrivals were up 41 per cent into Turks and Caico and; 15 per cent up to Sint Maarten, Costa Rica saw 32 per cent growth and Antigua and Barbuda witnessed an almost 70 per cent increase in flights versus December 2019. Departure points were strongest from airports in Florida, with Naples, Miami-Opa Locka and West Palm beach all seeing more than 20 per cent increased activity YOY. Scottsdale business aviation departures were also up by 30 per cent, while Salt Lake welcomed 19 per cent more arrivals than in December 2019. Teterboro still managed to be the busiest airport for business aviation in December, but departures are tracking 45 per cent less than normal.
In Europe there were 40,000 business aviation sectors operated in December, some 6,000 fewer flights than in December 2019, representing a drop of 13 per cent. As with the US, this marks a rebound on 20 per cent declines in November, regaining the recovery path in October. The resilient sector is charter, with branded charter operators flying seven per cent below normal, but up one per cent in hours. Private operations, mainly aircraft owners, were also resilient, at more than 90 per cent of normal while cargo-specific business aviation aircraft were 18 per cent busier than last year. The growth didn't come from the leading markets; Departures from France and Germany fell close to 20 per cent, Italy was down 25 per cent and the UK dropped by 30 per cent. The market was buoyed by Spain, Russia and Turkey, respectively up in terms of flights by one, five and 20 per cent YOY. Flights within Turkey were up 25 per cent, and there was also strong growth in connections from Turkey to Russia, UK, Albania and Greece.
At an airport level, the busiest airport across Europe in December was Paris Le Bourget, but activity was down 29 per cent YOY, with Milan Linate, Rome Ciampino and Munich equally weak, while Luton stood out with 40 per cent fewer departures YOY. Farnborough and Geneva continued to stagnate at 20 per cent below normal, but Zurich and Biggin Hill were both within 10 per cent of last year. The growth came out of Nice with flights up seven per cent, Moscow Vnukovo with departures up 12 per cent and Istanbul Ataturk with flight activity up by 40 per cent. The biggest increases came on flights from Moscow to Dubai, St Petersburg, and into Western Europe via Nice and Riga. Flights from Spain to Belgium and Germany were up 50% in December. Further flung connections with growth during the Christmas period included the UK to UAE and Russia to Maldives.
Worldwide, four business jet segments flew more in December 2020 than in December 2019: very light jets, entry level aircraft, light jets and midsize jets. Heavy jets flew 19 per cent fewer sectors YOY, ultra-long range jets flew almost 30 per cent fewer hours and bizliner traffic was down 46 per cent. The Phenom 300 was the busiest light jet, with sectors down by three per cent and hours up by seven per cent. Hawker 700-900 aircraft also few more hours, as did the CJ1 and Nextant. Demand for Caravan, King Air and PC-12 was pretty close to normal. The Challenger 300/350 flew at 88 per cent of usual, and the Challenger 600 was busiest large jet, with activity 16 per cent down. The Gulfstream GV/500 flew 5,400 missions in December, 23 per cent fewer YOY.