There was a surge in business aviation traffic just after New Year, as travellers came home from Christmas holidays, has bolstered flight activity in the first two weeks of 2021.
Compared to the same fortnight in 2019, global business aviation demand is down by just one per cent, although trends have slowed in the second week of January, according to WingX's weekly Global Market Tracker. Scheduled passenger flights over the same period are down by 45 per cent while cargo operations are trending up by five per cent so far this year compared to 2020. This month kicks off a long recovery road for the aviation sector, following a 45 per cent fall in global fixed wing activity in 2020, with commercial airlines operating at under half 2019 levels while business aviation remains more resilient at 20 per cent below 2019.
The Christmas and New Year holiday period demonstrated the resilience of business aviation in responding to leisure demand. Mid-December saw a significant pick-up in flight activity, peaking during 22-24 December, with each day seeing an at least 10 per cent increase versus the same Christmas Day run-up in 2019. Return trips after the New Year were concentrated around 1 and 2 January, with both days seeing 30 per cent more activity than the same dates last year. For every region apart from Europe and Africa, there was an increase in business jet usage from mid-December through to the first week of January. Charter and aircraft management companies flew more, with private flight department travel down only four per cent.
The US market has provided the most significant boost to business aviation usage over the last four weeks. Florida was the epicentre, with jet and prop departures up by 23 per cent on pre-pandemic levels. By far the busiest connection is between Florida and New Jersey; even since January 3rd, well after the holidays, flights are up 41 per cent. New Jersey activity is still trailing almost 20 per cent, and business aviation is ailing in California at 15 per cent below normal. During the holiday period, charter activity was particularly strong, with flights up across the country by nine per cent. Apart from the main airports in Florida, there were spikes in business jet activity from White Plains, Westchester, Scottsdale, Centennial and Salt Lake airports. Flights between Miami-Opa Locka Executive and Teterboro are up 100 per cent since mid December.
Europe has weathered a much slower period of business aviation activity, particularly since the holidays ended. Even during the holidays, flight activity stagnated in major markets such as the UK, France, Germany and Italy, with almost no ski traffic. There was strong growth in business jet traffic from and within Russia and Turkey. Destinations in Greece, Latvia, Serbia, Cyprus and Malta saw more business jet traffic during the holiday period than in previous years. Flights from Germany to Spain were up by 50 per cent for the two days before and after the New Year. Arrivals into Nice were up by over 50 per cent, and arrivals into Luton down more than 50 per cent. Since the New Year, activity has slumped, down by 21 per cent. The UK is worst off, with business aviation flights off by 48 per cent, though still more resilient than airline traffic, which is down 78 per cent YOY.
Outside Europe, some countries have sustained growth in flight activity even since the holidays, with the US slightly up and demand tracking above the same period in 2020 for Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Bahamas and China. Business jet traffic to and from the Maldives is up almost three times in the last week compared to January 2020, a sign that holidays are getting extended. The United Arab Emirates is also seeing more business jet visitors than ever, with movements at Dubai's Al Maktoum up by 100 per cent in the last week. Smaller jets continue to be most in demand, flying 40 per cent of all departures since the start of year and operating more hours than January last year. Midsize jets are also up on last year. All the slowdown is coming from the large jets; Global Express activity is down 30 per cent year on year.
WingX MD Richard Koe comments: “The surge in business aviation activity peaked just before Christmas and just after the New Year, but longer holidays also appear to be extending robust leisure demand into the first two weeks of January. The exception is Europe, where harsh lockdowns have suppressed activity, with a few bright spots during the holidays tapering off sharply in the last two weeks. Looking ahead, we would expect the market to see a mid-winter relapse, but still be more resilient than commercial airlines.”