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Business Air News Bulletin
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US business jet activity hits a post-pandemic high
The US charter market continues to be buoyant; at the anniversary of lockdowns, branded charter operators in the US have increased sectors by three per cent in 2021. Entry level jets and VLJs are up 20 per cent.

Business aviation activity is holding up in March 2021, with 177,835 flights in the first half of the month, representing a drop of two per cent compared to the first half of March 2020, the final period before the pandemic response imposed widespread travel restrictions. Global airline activity is down by 38 per cent compared to the first two weeks of March last year. According to WingX this is an improvement on recent weeks, partly because total flight activity in Asia is now up 30 per cent, bouncing off the activity lows from last year, when the region was already in various levels of lockdown. Global cargo activity continues to grow, up 17 per cent on March 2020 in terms of sectors operated.

More than 80 per cent of this month's worldwide business aviation flights originated in the North American market. The United States is recovering fastest, with the first half of March up by 0.5 per cent in terms of sectors and trailing two per cent in flight hours. In comparison with the March 2020 period immediately preceding the lockdown in the US, business jet traffic is up in private, fractional, management and branded charter activity. Fractional activity is up by most, with a four per cent overall gain, 10 per cent growth in light jets and 20 per cent growth in very light jets. NetJets and Flexjet are up this month, as are smaller operators like AirShare and PlaneSense. The busiest airports for the fractional operators are Palm Beach, Florida and Dallas Love Field in Texas.

The US charter market continues to be buoyant; up to the anniversary of the lockdowns, branded charter operators in the US have increased sectors by three per cent in 2021. The entry level and very light jets have had very strong growth this year, with sectors up by 20 per cent. Midsize and super midsize jet flight hours are up close to 10 per cent compared to the pre-pandemic period. However, heavy jet operations in the charter market are still down by 12 per cent and ultra-long range hours are down by 25 per cent. The busiest US state for charter demand is Florida, with almost double the number of flights compared to next busiest, California, and with at least five airports in Florida seeing more than 25 per cent growth in departures compared to last year.

European flight activity is still well below pre-pandemic trends, with the total fleet declining more than 60 per cent in the first half of March and airlines seeing the steepest drop with flights down by 72 per cent. Business aviation is relatively robust at 16 per cent below normal, while cargo operations are almost 15 per cent up year on year. Private and corporate flight departments are by far the most robust, at just one per cent below normal this month. A recovery in private operations is most evident in Spain, Austria, Russia, Turkey and Italy, with the bounce in Italy already accounting for lockdowns in place a year ago. Looking across all business aviation operations, activity in Poland, Greece, Ukraine, Hungary and Serbia is well ahead of the first half of March 2020.

At the European airport level, Moscow Vnukovo is the busiest airport for business jet activity this month, with a slight YOY increase, while Paris Le Bourget, in second place, has seen departures drop by 30 per cent YOY. The busiest connection from Vnukovo is to Al Maktoum in Dubai, with the next busiest connections being to Sochi, St Petersburg, Riga and Kazan. There are some other European pairs with strong growth, with flights between Milan and Rome up by 80 per cent compared to the lockdown period at the start of March last year. Also business jet flights between Larnaca and Tel Aviv are well up YOY. Across Europe this month, the turboprop segment is the only one which shows some increase on early March 2020.

Outside Europe and the US, 53 per cent of this month's business aviation activity is turboprop, with much of this in Australia. For business jet traffic, Mexico is the busiest market, with sectors down by 20 per cent, and Canada the next busiest, with 31 per cent less activity YOY. Brazil is also falling behind early-year trends this month. Meanwhile business jet activity in India, Nigeria, China and UAE is well up versus March 2020. There is clearly still strong leisure demand, with flights out of Turks and Caicos up by 26 per cent, and Maldives arrivals up by more than three times compared to pre-pandemic (travel restrictions introduced March 12th 2020). Looking at the wider Asian region, the seven-day rolling average activity is back up to February 2020 levels.

WingX MD Richard Koe comments: β€œOn 15 March, the post-pandemic rolling seven-day activity in the US peaked at 6,002 daily sectors; that is the second highest daily activity since January 2020. Operators in the European market will be hoping to see the same effect when restrictions are finally lifted this summer, especially in the UK where business jet sectors are down 62 per cent.”

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