Global business aviation activity this April is more than double April 2020, which comes as little surprise given the contrasting phases of the pandemic. The comparison is not exact as Easter is earlier this year, but the seven-day rolling trend is confirming a big improvement, running at 11,992 sectors on Easter Day this year, compared to under 4,000 sectors on Easter Day last year, but still six per cent short of the 12,700 business aviation sectors flown on Easter Day on 21 April 2019. The global picture for business aviation coming into Q2 is much healthier than for the commercial airlines; scheduled sectors were up 140 per cent up on locked-down Easter 2020 but are still more than 40 per cent behind Easter 2019.
WingX data reveals that since the start of 2021, global business aviation traffic is up by five per cent compared to same period 2020, in contrast to a 39 per cent deficit for scheduled airlines. Cargo traffic is up 14 per cent over the same period. In terms of business jet movements, there was a new post-pandemic peak on 27 March of 8,571 daily sectors, close to last year's pre-pandemic peak of 8,669 sectors, though substantially lower than the 8,900 daily peak back in April 2019. The US recovery has been most impressive, with daily activity trends above 6,100 sectors last week, compared to 4,500 during the initial phase of the recovery in the second half of last year. Europe shows a totally different picture, with this Easter's 1,000 daily sectors far above the trough of 260 sectors at Easter last year but well short of 1,300 sectors flown on Easter Sunday 2019.
The comparative 2021, 2020 and 2019 trends confirm that the US is driving the global rebound in flight demand. Business jet hours in the US are up 15 per cent year-to-date 2021 versus same period in 2020. Branded charter flights are up 20 per cent this year, and even private and corporate flight departments are 11 per cent busier in the first 14 weeks of 2021. Teterboro is yet to regain the top spot, but trends this year are down 21 per cent versus 50 per cent declines last year. West Palm Beach is number one and has seen nearly 30,000 movements this year, up 56 per cent on the same period last year and 25 per cent higher than pre-pandemic records. Texas is the second busiest US state this year, having recovered from the big freeze and lockdowns to post a 22 per cent increase on 2020. Business jet usage in Texas is now as high as it has been since 2018.
Over in Europe, the UK continues to see the worst declines in flight activity this year. Compared to the handful of flights last Easter, the most recent weekend was four times busier, but still 40 per cent down on Easter 2019. This year, the UK ranks seventh busiest in Europe, posting 55 per cent fewer business jet flights than in the same period of 2020. Both Spain and Italy are seeing around five per cent gains in flight activity this year, whereas France and Germany are still 10 per cent behind. Overall, the European area is seeing 10 per cent fewer business jet flights this year than last, but there are a number of countries already ahead of 2020 trends, including Greece, Ukraine, Poland, Serbia, Romania, Hungary and Cyprus. Paris Le Bourget is narrowly the busiest airport this year, with activity down 20 per cent, while Moscow Vnukovo is second with movements up 23 per cent versus 2020.
Outside the core European area, several countries have seen a full rebound from the pandemic and have sustained new higher levels of business jet activity. Movements in Russia are trending 10 per cent higher than in 2019 while Turkey had 27 per cent more flight activity this Easter than in Easter 2019. Excluding the US and European area, business jet activity is at 94 per cent of comparative 2019 levels this month. The UAE saw double the number of business jet flights during the Easter break in 2021 than in 2019. Overall, the Middle East is seeing some 30 per cent more traffic this spring than in the comparable 2019 period. Contrastingly, Canada has seen 25 per cent less business jet activity this year-to-date compared to 2020, and activity this Easter was 40 per cent down versus Easter 2019.
WingX MD Richard Koe comments: “Through the lens of the US market, business aviation has rebounded faster and fuller than most optimistic predictions last year, with activity fast approaching 2019 levels, matching the frenetic pace of business jet transactions. In contrast, the European market is sluggish, with the UK's inactivity suggesting that regional recovery in travel demand will not automatically result from successful vaccination programmes.”