The spread of the coronavirus throughout the world is having a devastating impact on the commercial aviation industry. The US government has not only closed off routes to many major countries, but demand from consumers has plummeted.
The trend is reversed for the private aviation industry, which is experiencing a notable boom as those with the resources seek the extra security that a chartered jet offers.
VistaJet has seen the total number of flights increased by a further 16% year-on-year across all regions. The US registered the greatest number of flights during the first two months of the year, making up 23% of global flights. Despite the deep impact of the virus spreading across Asia, demand from the continent remains stable at 11%.
Leading aircraft charter service Air Charter Service has said it has been inundated with requests for charters relating to the travel disruption caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus Covid-19.
Elite Traveler has spoken to a number of industry leaders to see how private aviation is responding to an unprecedented situation.
Thomas Flohr, VistaJet’s and Vista Global’s Founder and Chairman
“As the events of the last few months show, 2020 is not set to be business as usual. I have no doubt that the strong increase recorded over the past 10 weeks includes fliers looking for safer and cleaner alternatives to commercial flying. The agility and flexibility at the foundation of VistaJet ensure we are well-prepared to address the impact that the spread of coronavirus is having on the world.
“Above all else, the maximum safety and wellbeing of our passengers and crew is my utmost priority. The ever-changing developments associated with the coronavirus have guided us to find intelligent and innovative ways to step up to the challenge. We have been monitoring and adapting to the outbreak since the first cases were reported in late 2019, and we are working daily with experts and authorities to update our standards as the situation evolves.”
Founder and chairman of VistaJet, Thomas Flohr
Eric DuFay, Director of Charter Sales at JetSuite
“In the past few weeks and especially this week we have seen an uptick of about 5-10% in new inquiries from people that have not flown private in the past. We have had a few more bookings from corporate clients who are not being allowed to fly commercially.
“Lots of interest has been around spring break and families traveling together. Overall it has all been a wash since we have also seen a rise in cancelations as meetings are being done remotely. Just this week we had four cancelations all due to meetings and site visits being canceled for the virus.”
Joshua Hebert, CEO of Magellan Jets
“We are seeing a trend in businesses who traditionally flew their executives on first-class are now finding it safer and more economical to fly the same group of people on a private aircraft. Interestingly, we’ve an influx in new charter customers from people who would have normally flown commercially.
“We are immediately seeing the effects from President Trump’s European travel ban. Just today, we have arraigned several complex trips from the U.K. to the northeast of the US, which speaks the trust that clients place in us during times of uncertainty. We anticipate that transcontinental requests such as this will continue to rise. Additionally, since commercial airlines are suspending their routes and operations, we are inevitably going to see a spike in requests for northeast to southeast travel, which has historically been one of our most popular routes.
“The safety, security and health of our clients is of the utmost importance to us. Magellan Jets has established a Covid-19 task force focused on the safety of customers 24/7. We are actively communicating with our operators to maintain top levels of safety and security for you and your loved ones.
“Our members are seeing an added value from their memberships by being able to use their hours to bring clients to them and transport elderly or high-risk family members. With guaranteed availability, they know they can trust Magellan Jets to be a reliable source for all of their travel needs during this time. Some of our elderly members are specifically reevaluating their travel by opting to fly to their second homes or vacation properties to avoid large crowds.
“Internally, we are working on promoting domestic travel and providing our clients with alternative spring break and summer destinations. We believe Latin America and the Caribbean will be popular destinations over the next few months, as well as travel within the US.”
Andrew Collins, President and CEO of Sentient Jets
“Passenger safety has always been of the utmost importance to Sentient Jet and we are proactively monitoring the developments surrounding the global spread of Coronavirus. While keeping the safety of our clients top of mind, Sentient Jet is cautiously flying to many destinations across the globe, excluding mainland China, Iran, South Korea, and many areas of Europe where high levels of risk have escalated and governmental travel bans have been put in place.
“Our clients have been receptive and understanding of the changes given the current climate, and given our level of proactivity on their behalf, we continue to report substantial 17% flying growth in the month of March, which we attribute to the current global climate. In general, we are finding cardholders being extra vigilant in how their family is traveling, bypassing large crowds and security checks. Our 24×7 Command Center is helping people get home or to destinations they feel more comfortable during this challenging time.”
David Dixon, President Jetcraft Asia
“The outbreak of coronavirus continues to evolve, along with the travel advice, and restrictions have been placed on all aspects of flight, including business aviation which are being updated almost daily.
This is déjà vu for me as I recall only too well the outbreak of SARS in 2002/2003 and the devastation this brought, especially to Asia. The difference today is, unlike 17 years ago, China was less integrated into the world’s economy. As such, the impacts were far more regional, and Asia was hit hard economically. Today, the world is a different place.
In terms of aircraft manufacturing, Boeing, Airbus and engine maker Safran have all confirmed disruption due to factory and assembly line closures and travel restrictions. For the service facilities in China the work has slowed significantly, but the China owned/based fleet was in a slight decline mode before this factor emerged. It’s hard to say what the long-term impact will be as it’s simply too early.
If SARS is a pointer to the impact on business aircraft sales there were, in my experience, some buyers who were unconvinced they needed or wanted a private aircraft until the health threat changed everything. I sold a few arising from this problem. In that sense, it may not be all bad for the industry. Charter has seen an increase in requests, but restrictions on crews having been in certain countries complicates the situation.
All events present their own challenges, this one is seemingly going more global than SARS and is becoming a worldwide, not only Asian, problem. We know it is certainly slowing economic growth. One thing for sure, most people now know where Wuhan is.”
Jetcraft Asia president David Dixon draws similarities with the SARS outbreak / ©Jetcraft
Justin Lancaster, Commercial Director at Air Charter Service
“Since the outbreak, our offices around the world have been arranging flights on local charter aircraft as the world deals with the travel disruption and overall cut to capacity to the region. We have flown everything from four passengers on a private jet, to hundreds on larger aircraft, to 100 tonnes of surgical masks – it has been all systems go since the epidemic was first reported.
“Some customers have tried to avoid infection by flying with their families on private jets to avoid traveling on commercial aircraft with a large amount of people, whereas several organizations, as well as governments, have evacuated en masse on larger aircraft, such as an Airbus A380.
“We have also flown various relief cargo into the region, including, protective overalls, medical gloves and millions of surgical masks.
“We have faced various challenges in booking the flights, including passengers requesting crew that had not been to China since the beginning of January, clients not willing to put their cargo on aircraft that have recently been to the region, obtaining diplomatic permits and staff from our three regional offices working from home, to minimize their risk of infection. Our US, European and Middle East offices have all also been involved in booking the charters.
“Perhaps our biggest challenge is ensuring that all government and medical advice is followed to prevent spreading infection. This week we had to cancel four flights due to changes in regulations in certain countries.”
Justin Lancaster says large aircraft have been chartered for large-scale evacuations
Christopher Marich, Co-founder of MySky
“In the past few days and weeks, we have seen a dramatic increase in the demand for private jets, fueled by uncertainty, sanitary, and safety precautions. This demand is largely thanks to individuals looking to protect their families and colleagues but must fly to or from critical meetings. While the demand for private jets is definitely at an above-average level, it is ultimately too early to quantify a year-over-year change.
“Coronavirus is currently boosting private jet operations, but I believe we are experiencing a peak before an upcoming quiet period. For now, people are looking for alternate ways to travel. If coronavirus continues to spread, however, we expect people to stop traveling entirely.
“The travel ban is still not clear enough to predict its global impact, but it will definitely have a strong effect on commercial airlines, which require a large number of passengers to be profitable. In this ultra-competitive market, for example, we recently saw several commercial players go bankrupt – and that was without any major disruptions like coronavirus.
“In the private jet sector, we are used to low usage of an aircraft (for example, a jet flies 20 to 80 hours per month, while a commercial aircraft flies 200 to 250 hours per month). For this reason, coronavirus should have less of an impact on private aviation. Additionally, most of the aircraft in the private jet sector are non-core assets, which means they are not bought for profit. Consequentially, a drop in flying should not have a detrimental impact on the industry.”
An official statement from Victor
“We saw a spike in last-minute bookings from the Alps at the end of last week as a result of ski resorts closing. When Verbier announced that they were closing lifts on Friday afternoon, one frequent flyer client swiftly booked a charter on-demand with Victor to fly from the Alps to Ibiza where he has a second home.
“We also had a client who doesn’t typically fly privately but decided to charter at short notice as he had broken his collar bone skiing and wished to minimize the discomfort of a seven-hour flight. Using a jet from local airport – Sion – allowed for a more comfortable journey home.
“Another client in the Caribbean had a flight home booked for this weekend (first class with a commercial airline), but was concerned that the airline would cancel so has booked a charter with Victor to repatriate him, his partner and another couple back to the UK.
“Rapid evacuation is a crucial part of Victor’s 24/7 charter service, and we are ready to assist with repatriation flights for individuals, families or larger groups, with the support of the relevant government officials. In these uncertain times, we are seeing clients really value Victor’s personal service and the opportunity to discuss their options via phone with our aviation specialists.”