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US makes inroads as Europe struggles to recover
Last week, after holidays would normally end, business jet activity was within 10 per cent of normal. There is considerable geographic variation though, with the US tilting the market up and Europe weighing it down.

Business aviation flight activity has held up during the last three weeks, with flights down only three per cent compared to the same period in January 2020 and with almost 200,000 sectors operated on business jets and props since the New Year began.

This trend, charted by WingX's weekly Global Market Tracker, is in stark contrast to scheduled airlines, whose activity has stagnated at around 50 per cent below normal. Much of the boost to business aviation is coming from the leisure market and apparently the longer-stay vacations this year. Even in the last week, well after holidays would normally end, business jet activity was within 10 per cent of normal. There is considerable geographic variation, however, with the US market tilting the market up and Europe weighing it down.

At just one per cent below normal, the US market's resilience is owed mainly to the charter market. Charter sectors are up by four per cent and flight hours are 10 per cent higher than in the comparable first three weeks of January 2020. Even in the last week, charter flight hours were down only 1.5 per cent and business jet and prop charters out of Florida are 26 per cent up on the same period last year. Colorado is as much a hotbed of activity as ever, with charters up almost 40 per cent for January. Charter activity out of California is still down by 33 per cent but even New York is now seeing more charter demand than in the same period in January 2020. Charter flights from the US to sunny destinations in Costa Rica, St Kitts, Dominican Republic, and Turks and Caicos are all well up for this time of year.

The European market is ailing as ever tighter lockdown restrictions are imposed to control the winter virus. Business aviation flight activity has slid 23 per cent below normal across the region, with the UK the conspicuous backmarker. From the UK, business aviation flights are down by 50 per cent compared to January 2020, as scheduled airline activity plummets 80 per cent. in the last week, as international borders come under heavier restriction, all flight activity has wilted, with business jet activity down by two thirds. Undoubtedly Brexit has complicated an already difficult market for UK registered operators, with red tape on traffic rights significantly constraining charter operations. The leisure market is most obviously affected, with charters to the ski slopes from the UK down 80 per cent.

Other European countries are doing relatively better, with branded charter operations holding up at 14 per cent below normal, which is much better than private and corporate flight departments where hours are down by 28 per cent. In contrast, ad hoc cargo sectors flown from Europe are up by 90 per cent. Government usage of business aviation aircraft is also slightly up this month. Western Europe is the worst affected in terms of activity decline, especially Germany, with jet activity down by 44 per cent this January. Business jet sectors flown out of Switzerland are down by over a third, reflecting the demise of this year's ski season. Activity out of France and Spain is down by less, at around 15 per cent fewer flights. In contrast, business jet flights from Portugal are up by 15 per cent.

In Europe's periphery, there is notably more business jet traffic in January 2021 than in January 2020. Business jet flights out of Russia, Turkey, Cyprus, the Balkans, Hungary and Romania are all well up. The UAE has seen almost double the number of business jet flights than in January 2020, and flights from Israel were up by three per cent last week YOY. Flights to and from the Maldives are up by three times. Business jet activity in Brazil is higher than last year, though still well down in Mexico and Canada. Business jet sectors flown from China are up this year, but down in the last week. For all these markets outside the US and Europe, the busiest aircraft segment is ultra-long range, with hours down by 25 per cent, whereas midsize jets are flying three per cent more sectors than they were last year.

WingX MD Richard Koe comments: “Overall, business jet activity has not wilted as much as expected given that holidays should be over, lockdowns have been renewed and employees work from home. Europe reflects this logic, with flight activity from the UK stilled since December. But the much bigger US market has been a lot more resilient and for now at least it appears that stronger charter demand is going to sustain a strong recovery into February.”

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