By Sumner Park
Private air travel is taking off as the commercial airline industry remains largely at a standstill because of the coronavirus pandemic that is leaving many consumers skeptical about traveling on a major carrier due to health and safety concerns.
“We have found a segment of the market that has been ignored in large part that have a need for private travel, that being small and medium-sized businesses,” Glenn Gonzales, co-founder and CEO of Jet It, told FOX Business. “People need to travel for business. Sixty percent of annual revenue for the airline business comes from the front 12 seats of the airplane, which speaks to the amount of business travel that is taking place around the country for first- and business-class travelers.”
Jet It’s days-based model, with a rate of $1,600 per hour, allows owners to use the aircraft for the day, which lends itself well in the coronavirus environment in which the multitude of touchpoints can be minimized. It also eliminates the need for hotels or overnight lodging, as the business traveler can visit a client and make it back home within the same day.
Since last year, inquiries into Jet It from prospective customers have surged, and it has already started a round of presales for its HondaJet aircraft. The timeline of its deals has compressed to a three-month window, compared with an eight- or nine-month window before the pandemic
The company doubled its sales year over year in March.
Flexjet, another operator of private jets, saw activity rebound at a two-fold pace each week since the week prior to Memorial Day weekend, the company’s chief operating officer, Megan Wolf, said in a statement to FOX Business.
Unlike previous economic downturns, where spending on private aviation by individuals and businesses is the first expense cut and the last to resume, the inherent safety afforded by private aviation in a COVID-19 world has boosted the value and need for many users, Wolf said.
Since travel restrictions were put in place because of the pandemic, commercial air travel has fallen 95 percent. But private aviation is down around 30 percent, according to David McCown, president of Air Partner U.S.
“What happened in the last three months is you’re starting to see a lot of people who never considered private aviation, whether they could afford it or not, decide they are not going to get on a commercial airline,” McCown told FOX Business. “We’ve seen a lot of people who didn’t typically fly private but now they are.”
Despite the well-heeled clientele that includes high net worth individuals, many companies have picked up new customers that might have never considered flying private.
“Only 10 percent of people who can afford to fly private do,” Ian Moore, chief commercial officer at VistaJet, one of the largest private jet firms, told FOX Business. “Now we are already experiencing demand from first-time private aviation flyers as they look towards alternatives for more safe and reliable flight solutions.”
The private air industry continues to gain traction as consumers look for more autonomy and control in a safer travel environment. In comparison to large commercial fleets, private aircraft carry a smaller number of people, offer sanitation regulation and fresh air circulation. Private airplanes provide a more confined and controlled setting to mitigate any risk and exposure, and they also reduce the need for TSA and layovers, which optimizes travel speed and efficiency.
And, while airlines have cut flights from their schedules and reduced the frequency of others, the private aviation market allows more options for business travelers.
“Private aviation is going to be a growing solution for business travel, as well as personal travel,” McCown said. “We are seeing businesses that are now looking at private aviation for risk mitigation.”
Air Partner, a global private aviation leader, has grown rapidly over the past few months. Its global team reported a 210 percent increase in request volumes for flight bookings during May compared to a year ago. The rise in requests for flights from June to August ranges from individuals to corporations seeking alternative solutions for flying to frequented leisure destinations or essential business matters.