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Omicron makes little dent in December demand
WingX analysis of global business aviation traffic finds that demand is not wilting in the face of the renewed pandemic. Indeed, recent record levels of business jet activity may well last well into 2022.

Business jets and turboprops flew 310,914 sectors in December 2021, up 30 per cent on December 2020 and marking seven per cent more activity than in December 2019. Global cargo operations are also up, with five per cent more sectors than in December 2019. Scheduled airline traffic is trailing by 32 per cent compared to December 2019, even though airline traffic is up 27 per cent year on year. For the full year to-date, business aviation traffic is up three per cent on 2019, up six per cent for the business jet platforms, which will make it a record year. In the meantime, global scheduled airline activity is up 26 per cent on last year but still down 38 per cent on 2019.

The North American region has seen 165,000 business jet departures so far this month, up 11 per cent on December 2019. Scheduled airline traffic has climbed back to within 25 per cent of 2019 levels and is up 47 per cent on last year. The United States is the busiest business jet market in the region, with sectors flown up by 11 per cent and flight hours up 15 per cent, both with reference to December 2019. Five of the top 15 countries in North America are still trailing December 2019, the biggest being Canada. For the full year, flight hours on business jets in the US are up by 10 per cent. Mexico and Canada will end 2021 with sizeable ongoing deficits versus 2019. Besides the US, the biggest growth in North America in 2021 has come from Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos, Sint Maarten and Costa Rica.

Within the US, Florida is the busiest state, with business jet traffic storming ahead of 2019 levels, 35 per cent up versus December 2019. Texas, California and then Georgia, Colorado and Arizona are all seeing double digit increases in business jet demand versus December 2019. The only busy US state where the Omicron variant impact is evident is New Jersey, where traffic has fallen 3 per cent below December 2019. In terms of aircraft segments, the demand is tilted towards lighter aircraft, with light, super light and midsize jets flying almost 20 per cent more than in December 2019. Ultra-long range jet activity is up 10 per cent compared to December 2019. For the full year, ULR jet sectors are down 1 per cent and hours down by nine per cent.

Despite the onset of Omicron, business jet activity in Europe in December 2021 is four per cent up on a comparable December 2019. Very light jet sectors are up almost 30 per cent versus a pre-pandemic December 2019, and the light through to midsize segments are seeing almost 20 per cent growth this month versus two years ago. Growth in business jet activity appears to be concentrated in peripheral European countries, most obviously Russia and Turkey, with both countries seeing more than 25 per cent increases in demand versus December 2019.

As with the earlier phase of the pandemic, business jet demand in the UK has wilted first from the renewed virus wave, with the first three weeks of December seeing a 3 per cent dip in activity compared to pre-pandemic December 2019. Denmark, Ireland, Belgium and Norway are also all experiencing a fall in demand as travel restrictions are renewed. Conversely, Spain continues to see very strong demand for business jet traffic, with flights up by 35 per cent versus 2019. Portugal and Greece also continue to see very strong growth this December. Croatia, Serbia, Hungary and Cyprus are seeing upwards of 30 per cent growth in business jet activity versus December 2019.

Outside Europe and North America, business jet traffic in December 2021 is up 29 per cent compared to December 2019. Brazil, India, Nigeria and UAE are all seeing much stronger levels of demand than two years ago. Despite being the country where Omicron was recently identified, South Africa has seen a doubling in business jet traffic this month compared to December 2019. Most of the increase in activity is coming from private flight departments and aircraft management companies. Singapore, Japan and China have, conversely, seen a big slowdown in business jet traffic throughout the fourth quarter of 2021, with no sign of recovery this December.

WingX managing director Richard Koe comments: “Business aviation demand is not wilting in the face of the renewed pandemic. Indeed, there may be an inverse correlation which sustains the recent record levels of business jet activity well into 2022, especially as this latest wave of the pandemic has yet again undermined the weak recovery in scheduled airline traffic. The resilience of business aviation is particularly evident in the lightest jet segments, flying 30 per cent more than in pre-pandemic winter periods.”

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