BAN's World GazetteerU.K.
High demand coupled with a lack of charter aircraft has created a perfect storm for executive aircraft brokers on both sides of the Atlantic. So much so that for the first time in her 25 year career, Hunt & Palmer vice president, executive aviation USA Wendi Matthews-Ortiz has twice had to inform clients that there weren't any aircraft available at their price points.
“The pandemic brought a rush of newcomers to charter when the scheduled airlines stopped serving regular routes,” she says. And with IATA now forecasting the airline industry won't be back to 2019 levels until 2025, she believes many frequent flyers who typically fly first or business class are keeping loyal to charter.
Coupled with that, many private jet aircraft owners withdrew their managed aircraft from the charter market last year. Operator consolidation from the likes of Vista Global and Wheels Up has seen more charter aircraft moved on to fractional programmes or jet cards. Even the smaller, established operators have started incentivising regular customers with cards for their own fleet.
Lack of flight crew has further added to the pressure, she acknowledges. Workforce issues in the flight deck and on the ground are not just affecting the airlines. As airlines build back, they are poaching business aviation pilots, she says, echoing the job retention issue highlighted by operator Short Hills Aviation at last year's NBAA-BACE in Orlando.
Discounted pricing on one way and empty legs for the past two years has proven to be a major disruptor too. “Obtaining a Gulfstream IV charter for the equivalent price of a light jet was like winning the lottery, but even so some clients are now complaining that's 50 per cent more than we paid last year,” says Matthews-Ortiz.
Demand is such that Hunt & Palmer has added existing fractional clients to its customer base for supplemental charter lift, either from a different category of jet or to fly to a region their provider doesn't serve. She continues: “Jet cards are a good option if you fly upwards of 150 hours a year, but we're also seeing a raft of restrictions creeping in, which is encouraging mix and match trips that can be more cost effective.”
In the US both NetJets and Flexjet have added more new aircraft, while Vista Group and Wheels Up have widened their group to take on more capacity. Private charter in the US is up 28 per cent in the last quarter versus the same period in 2019 according to aviation analyst WingX CEO Richard Koe, while global movements are 23 per cent up. And this is without capacity growth.
The good news, according to Hunt & Palmer, is that after 12 months dominated by leisure traveller bookings to popular destinations like Colorado for skiing and Mexico and the Caribbean for vacations, the business community, especially the banking sector, is returning to charter.
“We have quoted multi-leg trips for a number of roadshows for banking customers who typically book large-size cabin charter aircraft. More good news comes in the shape of new types entering the charter market, including the transatlantic-capable Embraer Praetor 600. Other game changers coming include Dassault's Falcon 6X and 10X, Gulfstream's G700 and G800, and Bombardier's Global 8000 with its phenomenal 8,000 nm range,” says Matthews-Ortiz.