Flight activity retreats as virus resurges in US

10 Dec 2020

Issuing date: December 9th, 2020

According to WINGX weekly Global Market Tracker

82,919 business aviation flights were operated in the first week of December, trending 24% below the same period in 2019. Flight hours were similarly reduced, with these activity trends clearly deteriorating on the November YOY decline of 17%, extending the drop off in global activity since the mid October. The number of active business jet operators is down by 20% this month, the active fleet down by 14%. But business aviation demand continues to hold up better than commercial aviation, with passenger airline traffic down 49% so far in December. Since the start of November through today, business aviation activity is trending down 17% globally, compared to scheduled airlines, sectors down 50%. Scheduled cargo airline activity is up 7% in that period.

Business Aviation activity (flight hours) by region, showing YOY and last 7D average

The North American market has seen a sharp slowdown in business aviation traffic coming into December, with the strong Thanksgiving holiday travel period ended and travel restrictions tightening across much of the region as the virus picks up. At 27% and 31% below normal for the first week of December, flight activity in the US and Canada is at its lowest ebb since the Spring. There is some resilience in business aviation aircraft deployment for cargo, ambulance, and logistics purposes, and some shuttle operations filling gaps created by reduced airline services, but all other operator types, including branded charter, are seeing declines of almost 30%. The virus impact is matched in passenger airline traffic: recovered to 67% of normal during Thanksgiving but down by 47% so far in December.

Business Aviation activity (flight hours) by Operator Type (Mission), showing YOY and last 7D average

The hardening of the second lockdown in the US has blunted flight activity across the country; no State has seen any growth so far this month, with busiest State Florida posting a 14% drop off in departures. This takes Florida into line with Texas, where YOY trends have been gradually recovering. There is relatively resilient traffic in Arizona, Wyoming, Montana and Oregon, traffic within 10% of normal. Flights flown within Oregon are up by 20% and there is a modest growth in activity between New York and Florida. Flights out of Naples and West Palm Beach airports are up this month compared to last year, and Scottsdale is maintaining its 2020 growth streak. In contrast, business aviation flights in New Jersey is back down below 50% of normal for this time of year.

All fixed wing flight activity (departures) by Sector, showing 2020 vs 2019

Business aviation flight activity in the European region is trending down by just under 20%, modestly deteriorating from November. Having peaked at close to 2,500 flights a day back in August, activity then slowed to around 1,300 daily flights as lockdowns were reimposed from November. There has been some improvement since the start of this month, as restrictions alleviate in a few countries; daily flight activity is up 20% in the UK since the start of December, although the UK is still seeing 37% YOY deficit in flights (which compares to 82% decline in airline traffic in the same period). Of the other major European markets, France is showing some recovery, with flights down by 11%; in November, business aviation activity within France was down by 21%.

There are still some growth outliers in the European region, with increased business aviation activity sustained in Russia, Turkey, also Finland. In Turkey, 14% growth in flights in December is showing up on small jets and turboprops: Lear 45, King Air 200, Citation Excel, Citation Bravo. Also, the Global Express platform, including Global 6500, is seeing more than double YOY activity from Turkey. Busiest connections are mostly domestic, flights between Antalya, Istanbul and Ataturk, with some growth in international connections with Tel Aviv and Tirana. Back in Western Europe, Zurich and Cologne airports are seeing growth in activity in the last week, Nice is close to normal, but other major airport activity is in retreat, with activity down by 60% in Luton.

Outside North America and Europe, there is quite a bit of growth in the Southern Hemisphere, with business aviation departures well up in Australia, including Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane. Also, there are some hotspots in the Middle East, notably Tel Aviv and Al Maktoum in Dubai. Flight activity is also up from Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro this month compared to last year, whereas Mumbai and Riyadh continue to see a lot less activity. Globally, these regions are seeing a lot less Ultra Long-Range Jet activity, whereas Heavy Jets are the busiest segment, and flying more sectors YOY. This contrasts with Europe, where the busiest segment is Light Jet, with Charter hours up this month on the likes of Citation Mustang and Phenom 300.

Richard Koe comments “The virus winter wave has headed west from Europe to North America and the consequences have catalysed more travel restrictions and a sharp reversal in the surge in business aviation activity we saw around Thanksgiving. Meanwhile in Europe there has been a tepid recovery in the run-up to Christmas, with many operators reporting strong bookings for holiday charters, particularly longer-sectors to warm-weather destinations.”

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Categories: COVID Impact