While commercial planes stay still, private jets fly high

Shutterstock / Rus S

Aviation sector is slowly recovering from the coronavirus crisis and while many commercial planes are grounded, demand for private jets is still rising. 

Private jet market, contrary to commercial airlines, has seen a rise in demand. During the global crisis, light jets, seating 4-6 passengers, proved to be the most resilient jet category in the aviation industry. Since the beginning of the pandemic, amidst constantly changing travel restrictions, passengers had a hard time planning their travels and turned to private jet companies for more reliable solutions for point-to-point flights.

For some private jet companies, 2020 has been more profitable than 2019. One of them, Swiss-based company LunaJets, closed the year having sold 15% more flights than in 2019. In 2020, Dubai private jet industry has seen a 21% growth compared to the previous year, with the most growth happening in the fourth quarter of 2020. 

“This exceptional performance is due to, among many reasons, Dubai’s status as a preferred destination for tourists and the UAE ranking among the top countries in the world in efficiently handling the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Tahnoon Saif, the CEO of Mohammed Bin Rashid Aerospace Hub in Dubai.

Private jets to beat lockdown

In August 2020, in the United Kingdom, the demand for private jets was back to 93% of normal levels, while commercial passenger flights were down by 65%. In December 2020, private jets were operating at around 70% of pre-pandemic levels to a growing number of sunny destinations, such as the Maldives, the United Arab Emirates, and various Caribbean islands.

“As is often the case during times of widespread travel disruption, our industry has been able to step in and provide critical point-to-point travel, at a time when commercial flights aren’t viable or attractive to many”, said Adam Twidell, the CEO and founder of UK-based private jet company PrivateFly. 

Richard Koe, the managing director of WingX, said the private jet sector – also referred to as business aviation – offered “an on-call and convenient means of connectivity, essential as gaps appear in the scheduled networks.”

Private jet companies also offered an opportunity for stranded travelers to fly back to their home countries. In March 2020, after the US-Europe travel ban led to cancelations of flights between the two continents, Americans traveling or studying abroad turned to private jets to return home.

Aero, a luxury semi-private US jet company launched by Uber founder Garrett Camp, offers leisure trips on “virus-free” flights in the midst of the pandemic. The company prouds to offer single aisle spacious seating, allowing 16 passengers per plane. Everyone is required to take a pre-flight COVID-19 test and to wear a mask for the ride. Earlier in February 2021, Aero launched its first flight from Los Angeles to Aspen, Colorado, and plans to roll out international destinations in the coming months.

However, the “radically better premium leisure travel experience” is criticized to be “tone-deaf” as governments around the world are working on ways to discourage traveling. “It really isn’t the time to be moving people around. If we can stay as close to home as possible, that is the way we’re going to get through this pandemic,” said Dr. Kelley Lee, director of global health studies at Simon Fraser University.

Offering safety

While pre-pandemic private jet travel would be valued for the privacy it offered, in the current climate, travelers also tend to choose private planes in order to avoid crowded airports and health risks. 

“It’s people’s health concerns,” said Patrick Gallagher, president of sales and marketing for a jet charter business NetJets. “People are fearful of a commercial terminal with a hundred-plus strangers. They don’t want to deal with the protocols involved in that.”

According to Gallagher, travelers who used to previously fly on first and business class on traditional airlines are switching to private jets to lower their risk of contracting COVID-19. 

While COVID-19 could still be transmitted in the private jet cabin, the clients can limit the exposure to the virus by controlling who and how many people share the cabin. “We have seen an increased number of first-time flyers, attracted by the fact that private jets limit the opportunities for exposure to the coronavirus,” said Marine Eugène, Flexjet’s managing director in Europe.

“Private aviation flights have less than 20 touchpoints, meaning less interaction with people you don’t know. When you buy a jet card or charter an entire aircraft and even for shared flights, you are not navigating through massive, crowded airports. Private aviation is the best way to travel,” added Doug Gollan, founder of Private Jet Card Comparisons, a site that provides consumers a tool for comparing private travel options.

Paying the price

The private jet option is not easily affordable to everyone. The ticket prices can cost several times the monthly income of an average UK household. 

To fly from London City Airport (EGLC) to Nice Cote D’Azur Airport (LFMN) with EvoJets, a private jet company based in the US, would cost from around $6,400 and can go up to $12,700, according to the carrier’s website. The same route while flying with commercial carriers can cost from around $70. 

In the United States, the price of a round-trip, first-class flight from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS) is less than $400 on United Airlines. Chartering a private jet for up to eight passengers for the same route could cost around $9,000.

Some companies offer membership plans instead of single tickets. For example, Surf Air in the US offers an all-you-can-fly membership program for $1,950 per month that allows customers to fly as often as they want on pre-scheduled routes.

Some air carriers go further and offer a package that includes hotel accommodation to the travel destination. For example, US-based companies Jet Linx and Private Jetaway package private flights with private villas, especially in Mexico and other popular holiday destinations. 

Future forecast 

The United States is, by far, the largest market in the world for private aviation companies, with 21,900 business aircraft (defined as aircraft designed for transporting small groups of business people for commercial reasons at a time convenient to their needs) in inventory in 2019. By contrast, there were 4,159 business aircraft in all of Europe.

According to a survey conducted by the aviation products manufacturer Honeywell Aerospace, despite the short-term effects of the pandemic, the business jet market will not experience long-term impact or changes to purchase plans. 4 of 5 operators in the survey said their buying plans were not affected by the coronavirus crisis. 

Business jet usage is expected to fully rebound by the middle of 2021, “indicating demand for business jet travel is returning after the global pandemic caused a slowdown in the industry earlier this year,” said Heath Patrick, the president for America’s Aftermarket at Honeywell Aerospace.

Ecological concerns

While offering comfort to the travelers, the private jet industry raises ecological concerns as a traveler flying alone in the lightest class of private jet is responsible for up to 20 times the carbon emissions of an economy passenger on a commercial flight, according to the Guardian analysis.

Private jet companies are following the traditional airlines and turning to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). On February 4, 2021, NetJets announced it had made “a significant investment” in WasteFuel, a waste to fuel company that aims to transform landfill waste into SAF. 

“As the leader in private aviation, NetJets is deeply invested in advancing sustainability across the industry. After launching our expanded Global Sustainability Program last year, the opportunity to invest in the production of SAF with WasteFuel was a natural next step,” said Brad Ferrell, Executive Vice President of Administrative Services.


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