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Business Air News
The monthly news publication for aviation professionals.
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Charters start to rise as pandemic slowly retreats
Branded charter, with activity in March 2021 up 10 per cent on March 2019, and year-to-date charters two per cent up on 2019, is effectively setting a new US charter activity peak for the first quarter of a calendar year.

Business aviation activity in March 2021 is up 30 per cent on the same period in March 2020, and eight per cent down compared to March 2019. The year-on-year rebound indicated in the latest WingX data reflects the relatively unlocked state of the world's economies this month, compared to the second half of March 2020, when lockdown policies had been enforced across most of the world.

Despite the relative easing of restrictions, scheduled airline activity is still down by 18 per cent compared to March 2020, and 44 per cent less than 'normality' in March 2019. Global cargo activity is 17 per cent up this month YOY and 13 per cent up on the same time in 2019. Back in 2019, business aviation activity represented 14 per cent of all fixed wing activity globally, whereas in March 2021 the share is now 20 per cent.

With 285,000 business jet and prop flights this month, the North American region accounted for 80 per cent of global activity in March 2021. Compared to locked-down March 2020, this month is 31 per cent up, while still trailing March 2019 by eight per cent. The United States is recovering faster, with activity up 36 per cent this month compared to last year and within 10 per cent of March 2019 'normality'. Aircraft management companies have seen a 40 per cent rebound this month compared to last year when many owners grounded their aircraft. But the underlying strength is in branded charter, with activity in March 2021 up 10 per cent on March 2019, and year-to-date charters two per cent up on 2019, effectively setting a new US charter activity peak for the first quarter of a calendar year.

Across the US business jet fleet, even the heavy and ultra-long range sectors are up at least 25 per cent this month compared to March 2020, although both segments are still trailing Q1 2020. The biggest gains this year are in the entry level and very light sectors, with both segments up 15 per cent compared to Q1 2020. This month very light jet activity is five per cent up versus March 2019, mainly driven by the larger Cirrus Personal Jet fleet. Light and midsize jet segments are both up more than 40 per cent this month YOY and 10 per cent up compared to Q1 2020, but still a few points behind pre-pandemic activity. The best performing cabin segment in the US is super midsize, with sectors up 47 per cent YOY, up eight per cent for Q1 2021 and up three per cent compared to March 2019.

In Europe, business aviation activity is up 19 per cent compared to locked-down March 2020, although still 20 per cent behind March 2019. Still, the rolling average daily activity has recovered its highest level since October last year when the secondary lockdowns began. Italy has seen the highest rebound YOY, an almost three-fold increase in flights compared to March 2020. France, Germany and Spain have all seen activity increase at least 30 per cent this month. In contrast, business aviation flight activity out of the UK is still down 40 per cent compared to March last year. The biggest rebounds in Europe this month have been in turboprops and together with VLJs these segments are up so far this year. In contrast, ultra-long range activity in Europe is still down by 30 per cent so far this year.

Outside the US and Europe, the Asian region has seen the biggest YOY gains this month, as these regions are now mostly out of lockdown. Year to date, business jet activity in Asia is up 18 per cent. Australia is up 11 per cent and the first three-month trends in China, Nigeria and UAE are up by more than 70 per cent. Business jet activity in Saudi Arabia is down seven per cent in sectors and down 32 per cent in flight hours. Business jet arrivals in Turks and Caicos are up 32 per cent this year. Flight activity in Mexico is trailing by five per cent this year and by 25 per cent out of top airport Toluca, but flights out of Cabo San Lucas are up 45 per cent this year. Elsewhere, activity out of Al Maktoum airport in Dubai is up almost three times this year versus 2020, and Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv has seen an additional 35 per cent activity in business jet departures.

WingX MD Richard Koe comments: “The correlation between recovery in business jet activity and lockdown-lift is clear to see in the US, with flights in Florida up 30 per cent YOY and up 15 per cent in Texas, but still behind March 2020 in California. In Europe, flight activity in Italy is up almost three times despite ongoing restrictions, whereas the UK, with most of the population vaccinated, is 40 per cent behind in YOY traffic. Globally, business jet demand is recovering much faster than scheduled traffic as lockdowns ease.”

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