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Traffic is thriving in Florida but stalling in Europe
The North America market stood up well in January 2021, with the US, the key market, being just seven per cent down in terms of flight activity compared to January 2020. Border restrictions have hampered Europe.

According to WingX's weekly Global Market Tracker, January got weaker as the month went on, with the final week seeing demand lurch towards the declines of early summer last year. Evidently demand is being suppressed by travel restrictions, with the relatively unfettered US market seeing most resilient demand and Florida continuing to see record activity. The last few months' busy pre-owned business jet transactions market suggests that once lockdowns are lifted more widely, there could be pent-up demand from lots of new aircraft owners.

Globally just under 50,000 fixed wing aircraft were active in January 2021, with 23,000 business jets in operation, flying 322,000 sectors, representing 18 per cent of the total traffic and down by only nine per cent compared to January 2020. This is a stronger trend than for the scheduled airlines, whose passenger sectors are down by 50 per cent for the first month of the year. Ad hoc and scheduled cargo operations continue to exceed pre-pandemic levels, with an increase of 16 per cent in flights hours for January. The resilience of business aviation has started to erode in the last couple of weeks, as travel restrictions bite. For the week through 2nd February, business aviation activity is down 16 per cent YOY, while commercial airlines slipped back 55 per cent YOY.

The North America market stood up well in January 2021, with the US, the key market, being just seven per cent down in terms of flight activity compared to January 2020. The year-on-year trend for the full month has been flattened by the New Year holidays, with early January seeing more than 8,000 departures a day, a high point which has occurred only four times since the pandemic. Branded charter operators have done best, operating within three per cent of normality in terms of sectors and three per cent more than normal for flight hours. The market deteriorated in the second half of January, with activity down by 14 per cent in the most recent week, although charter operations are still within 10 per cent of normal.

Florida remains the busiest hub for business aviation globally, with 30 per cent more departures than Texas in January. In the last week, as most of the country has locked down again, Florida's relatively openness is reflected in an eight per cent increase in YOY flight operations. The key locations are Palm Beach, Miami-Opa Locka and Naples, all with 30 per cent increases in YOY business jet and propeller departures. Fort Lauderdale is relatively laggard with only 16 per cent growth. Ultra-long range and heavy jet traffic is down, but only by five per cent, with the main gains in the light jet segments. Branded charter operations are up by 18 per cent in the last week from the Sunshine State, while private flights are up more than 10 per cent. The busiest pairs are intra-state, but the fastest growing connections are with New York, Georgia, Texas and Illinois.

In Europe, the proliferation of border restrictions is reflected in fast-tapering flight activity, down by a quarter for January, but slumping by almost 30 per cent in the most recent week. The UK continues to be the deadweight; flight activity is down by 55 per cent, with no airports ranking in Europe's busiest 10 airports and flights out of Luton and Farnborough down by more than two thirds in the last week. Not all Europe is seeing declines, however, with flight activity from and within Russia and Turkey still higher than year on year. Scandinavian and Eastern European countries are also seeing quite robust activity, with more activity than ever through Latvia, Hungary and Iceland. The growing complexity imposed on UK registered aircraft may be reflected in the growth in flight activity out of Malta, which is up by 25 per cent in the last week.

The light and midsize categories continue to see more robust activity in Europe, with heavy and long-range jets idle. Turboprop operations are resilient, with King Air 200 activity down just two per cent. The Hawker 700-950 platform is an outlier, with sectors up by 11 per cent on this fleet in the last week. Much of this activity is coming out of Russia, especially St Petersburg and Moscow, and Turkey, and also from Larnaca in Cyprus. Unsurprisingly, international traffic is being most affected by this lockdown, with cross-border flights down by more than half. However, some markets, namely Russia, Turkey, Spain and Italy, are seeing more domestic travel than ever before. The busiest international connection is France to Switzerland, but with 30 per cent fewer flights in the last week. Interestingly, flights from Spain to Switzerland are up by one quarter.

The market outside Europe and the US is relatively robust. For the full month, flights are down only four per cent compared to January 2020. From and within Australia, Brazil, China, New Zealand and Colombia, there has been double-digit growth this month. The United Arab Emirates has seen a 75 per cent increase in business jet movements in January. Large jets flew 38 per cent of all activity, with the Challenger 600 platform on par with January last year, the Global Express platform flying 30 per cent less and the Embraer Legacy 50 per cent more active than last year. The last week has seen weaker trends, with operations down by 16 per cent, although government flights are up YOY. This is true in Nigeria, with business jets flying hybrid shuttles between Lagos and Abuja.

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