For the US, the latest numbers indicated a worsening situation as data covering the first seven days of April showed a 60% drop compared with the same period in 2019.
According to WingX’s latest Global Market Tracker, published late on April 15, the whole of North America and Europe saw the highest levels of decline.
However, in Asia and South America, the reduction varied between 65 and 70%, and flight activity out of China was down by 57%.
So why is Ringo Fan, managing director of Hong Kong-based APERTUS Aviation so bullish on the business jet industry?
“The current travel restrictions around the world are affecting the whole aviation industry, as few people are traveling at all,” says Fan. “Like the airline sector, a lot of business jet operators are now offering cargo, transport of medical staff, equipment and patients.”
Fan says there are still some repatriation and cargo flights, and they are doing more domestic flights within China, but compared to last month overall demand has plummeted. In fact, from mid March to early April, flight requests were roughly down 80%, and they expect to see the decline continue in May and June.
Dallas-based business jet charter operator JetSuite recently grounded its all-Embraer fleet —four Phenom 100s and eight Phenom 300s — and furloughed most of its crewmembers as the Covid-19 crisis drags on, according to a statement posted to the company’s website.
But Fan sees hope on the horizon.
“The impact to the industry is significant but it will be short term,” he says. “I think the priority now is for countries to work together and focus on the containment to reduce the virus spread.
“When the travel restrictions are lifted, I think the demand for jet charters will increase, because more people will consider chartering a jet for their business and family.
“The fact that the jet industry can provide the availability and the flexibility, it will help them move quickly and safe,” Fan says.
Ironically, when the coronavirus was hitting most biz/av companies hard, APERTUS saw business increase. That was because of the company’s innovative 30/60 program.
Instead of chartering a jet flight, customers could literally book an aircraft for 30 or 60 days, and use the aircraft for as many flights as needed.
“When Covid-19 started to spread to more countries, we saw a sharp raise on flight requests, nearly 50%,” he says.
“Most of our clients in Asia have businesses across the globe and have a second home, a holiday home, in another country.
“We have clients who want to fly their family back to their home country, while at the same time using the jet for their company’s top executives to travel within the region. We spent years to establish this network … and this allows us to respond quickly when our client made the request.”
APERTUS has staff in London, Singapore and Beijing, which offers a distinct advantage, Fan says. Clients may also request airport transfers or point-to-point transfer service from Blacklane‘s Worldwide Chauffeur Service in more than 300 cities, 60 countries and 500 airports worldwide.
“Having staff in different countries helps us to understand the market situation more quickly. For example, new regulations from local government and maintaining our relationship with our business partners, is also important.
“It is vital to communicate with our clients and partners during this (Covid-19) period, letting them know we are here to support and answer their requests.”
Fan also says there is no need to layoff staff.
“I want the team to know the company will go through this tough time together,” Fan says.
“I see this downtime as an opportunity for the team to improve their industry knowledge — we’re now working on new planning so when the market restarts, we are ready. So, there is a lot to do.
“Business jet travel will change after this epidemic, and we are reviewing now how to best adapt these new changes in terms of the fleet support, cabin preparation and ground support.”
Previously, Fans says, the company saw a shift toward mid-size aircraft (such as the two Citation Latitude business jets) due to the increasing travel demand to Asia from Europe and the US. Also, more clients recognized the benefit of cost-efficient and easy flight access into smaller city airports.
“After this epidemic, we reckon the demand will further increase in Asia based clients … more of them will want to travel by business jet. Also, consider that the airline sector may initially only have limited flight schedules, so the (newly added Gulfstream) G200 will be perfect to meet this segment.”
As for the Covid-19 impact, Fan says the company quickly adapted to make sure its crews were isolated and protected.
“We completely understood that (our) flight crews have concerns. Before the extensive travel ban, besides the sanitizing kits, on each flight we evaluate the risk very carefully, such as the Covid 19 situation locally, where the flight crew will stay, airport support to crew and the possibility of flying to a nearby city after dropping off the passengers.
“Before the outbreak, many of us took things for granted, such as hygiene and well-being. I think after this is over, all of us will start to look into this a lot more seriously — it’s as important as flight safety. “
As a biz/av executive, Fans sees changes ahead, something companies must do — plan for the future.
“The private jet charter business will be different after this outbreak. It’s not just about a luxury interior or the personalized services, we are now conducting more research to see what the criteria are now, and how we can fulfil that.
“People will be more cautious in customizing their travel needs in the future. The way people want to travel will change, and what one wants might be very different to another.
“Our unlimited 30/60 program that our customers have signed up for today, might not be the solution when Covid-19 is behind us. We will need to keep innovating and customizing new products that work for different customers.”
Rather than accept the dark picture trend, Fan is staying positive. We all know this is going to end, the question is when?
“It is difficult to predict when this will be over, but knowing that many scientists from different countries are working on the vaccine, and, some countries are starting to discuss re-opening their economy gradually, I think these are all good signs,” says Fan.
“We will probably see more travel companies offer private jets as an option … and for jet charters, the domestic market in China is always there. Now that the business activities are slowly restarting, we anticipate the demand will go up soon.
“People learn and improve after every crisis. I’m sure after Covid-19, the industry will bring in more innovative ideas to improve our travel.”