US charter demand slowing but likely to surge for Super Bowl weekend

10 Feb 2022

10/2/2022 – WINGX’s weekly Business Aviation Bulletin.  

Overall Comment
The first week of February saw some slowdown compared to January 2022, but US operators are gearing up for Super Bowl LVI coming this weekend. In Europe, huge increase in charter flights to Alpine airports demonstrates the rebound in leisure demand as international restrictions get lifted.

In the opening 7 days of February business jet sectors were up by 35% compared to locked-down February 2021. Back in February 2020, on the eve of the pandemic, business jet traffic was 10% lower than in the week just gone by. There are more signs of a post pandemic recovery for scheduled airlines, flights in the first 7 days of February 2022 were 42% higher than last year, 34% down compared to 2 years ago and 36% below 2019. Year to date presents a similar image, business jet flights are up 35% compared to last year, up 18% compared to 2020 and 13% compared to 2019. Scheduled passenger airlines have flown 35% more flights year to date, down 34% vs 2020 and down 30% vs 2019.

Chart 1 – Global fixed-wing flight activity year to date compared to 2021, 2020 and 2019.

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The first week of February has seen just under 10,000 business jet sectors in the European area, up 11% and 10% retrospectively compared to 2020 and 2019, up 54% compared to the heavily restricted February 2021. The growth trend is slightly lower in the last week than for the first five weeks of the year, which have registered 13% growth versus 2019. Year to date France is the busiest business jet market, with 52% more demand than last year, 5% more than 2020. Demand varies, bizjets from the United Kingdom flew 165% more sectors YTD than last year, 2% more than 2020. Germany trails 4% compared to 2020 and 5% compared to 2019. Spain stands out, with sectors up by 73% compared to last year, up 34% compared to 2020 and 2019 retrospectively.

Year to date the busiest bizjet international connection was between Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The busiest city connection for bizjets was between Geneva and London, demand between the cities is up by 352% compared to last year. Leisure demand for ski slope access is clearly driving the numbers, flights between London and Chambery and Sion up by ten times compared to last January. Large cabin aircraft are being flown more, with ultra-long range jet sectors within 1% of February 2019. Recovery is speeding up as the year progresses, with year-to-date activity in the Dassault and Gulfstream fleets down by around 15% compared to two years ago.

Chart 2 – Countries in Europe ranked by business jet departures year to date

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North America

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North America has seen seven times the number of business jet flights compared to Europe in the first week of February. Compared to 2021, 2020 and 2019, respectively, flight activity is up 27%, 6% and 0.5%. The US has had the lion’s share of those flights, with a February trend 1.3% up versus February 2019. That marks a slowdown on 2022 trends, which were up 10% compared to January 2019. Florida is still beating records, outbound activity up 26% compared to 2019. California is slightly ahead of pre-pandemic. Business jet activity in Texas has fallen below February 2019 levels.

Trends are variable across operators, with NetJets activity up by 10%, Flexjet sectors up by 72%, Solairus up 33%, Jet Linx down by 1%, Executive Jet Management fleet still flying 10% below comparable 2019. Overall, fractional operations are still surpassing all-time levels, but charter demand is slowing down,, at least for the first week of February. Flight demand may be slightly lower this month due to the later-than-normal date for the Super Bowl. Airports across Southern California will be expecting a major surge in business jet traffic in the coming weekend; departures the day after a Super Bowl have been on average 381% higher than the daily average for the month of February at airports near the Super Bowl venue.

Chart 3 – Business aviation departures at Super Bowl airports 2006 through 2021

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Rest of the World
Year to date, business jet activity outside the busiest markets in North America and Europe was 12% higher than last year. Aircraft owners are driving the demand, with private flights up 22% compared to last year. Charter activity remains higher than pre-pandemic, up 12% vs comparable 2019, but has slowed down since. The largest international connection is between the United Arab Emirates and Russia, despite strong growth versus pre-pandemic, sectors so far this year down 22% compared to last year. Brazil is the busiest biz jet market, demand is equal to last year, almost double pre-pandemic 2019. Australia follows, despite strong Covid-19 restrictions business jets are flying almost 40% more sectors than pre-pandemic, 14% more than last year and 17% more than 2 years ago.

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