The US state of play

29 Jun 2021

It’s fair to say that the aviation industry has been turned on its head over the past 18 months. As we start to see signs of recovery, we wanted to understand how things are in the sector. To do this, we caught up with our US colleagues on the ground and asked them to share their thoughts and experiences of how the market is responding, and what that means for their customers. Here’s how they see the current state of play.

Lisa McElvanna, Account Manager

“There’s an old saying in Ireland, that once you’ve drank whiskey, you’ll never go back to water. In parts of the UK, they wonder why you would go back to burgers after eating steak. The same rationale applies to aviation – once you go private, you’ll never go commercial again.

First-time flyers are the latest trend in the market, keeping many brokers and operators busy trying to educate them on best practices in the private charter industry. And being ‘busy’ is a far cry from this time last year. While demand is high, we keep hearing that we need more supply. Avinode products, such as our web apps and APIs, are helping to relieve some of the work burden on both operators and brokers.

The Canadian region has really suffered with tight restrictions, just like the EU. Where domestic and US flight demand was down, we’ve seen a huge increase in demand for flights from Canada to the Caribbean. With restrictions lifting across the board, we hope this brings a change and the trend continues to grow.”

Ceci Hayssen, Customer Success Manager

“Over the past few months, we’ve seen a steady return to travel, and the private aviation industry should be prepared for that trend to continue.

Since the start of the pandemic there’s been a large shift in the popularity of smaller aircraft, which has continued in recent months. Turboprops, VLJs and light jets are seeing growing demand, and this is in part due to the increased number of short range domestic trips. That’s unsurprising given the question mark that still hangs over Europe’s travel policies, but it’s also largely due to the number of new entrants to the market.

As travel begins to open up, commercial airlines’ regional routes are not returning as quickly as many would like and travellers are finding themselves looking into private as a more viable option – especially when you consider the health and safety benefits post-pandemic. Operators and brokers are seeing a large increase in first-time customers. It creates a new challenge of responding to the influx of requests, vetting for the most viable leads and educating new consumers.

As we gear up for summer in the US, operators should be prepared for a continued increase in demand. As the country starts to open up, the return to office is inevitable. With lots of major corporations continuing to offer flexible work from home options, post-summer there’s an expectation that employees will be much more tethered to their home base office and the concept of a working vacation in a new or sought after destination will be no longer be the norm.

Operators with management contracts are seeing a larger number of owners reserve their aircraft for personal use rather than offering it up for charters. Owners want the flexibility to travel this summer and utilize their own plane, the luxuries of which have been halted for the last 14 months. This is indicative of the larger demand for private travel but paired with the large volume of aircraft available for sale and changing hands, it also points to potentially less aircraft being available on the market for charter.”

Kristen Jurn, Customer Acquisition Manager

“Most everyone agrees that there is a “new normal” coming in all aspects of daily life as we emerge from lockdowns and restrictions. We still don’t know what that “new normal” will be until we arrive there. So, what does this mean for our beloved private and business aviation sector of the industry so far?

Overall, business travel, which is traditionally the main event behind driving revenue, is way down. Yet, this factor did not impede the many mergers and acquisitions we have seen with some of the larger and most prominently recognized charter brands. These new fusions led to operators having to redefine additional lift partners and/or agreements, and in some instances, new operations software partners.

Additionally, international travel was also greatly halted by the pandemic and a more regional service uptick was experienced by several operators, leading to higher utilizations of smaller aircraft. I suspect this may also be responsible for the current trend of newly formed/forming small fleet charter and management start-ups across the regions.

Where has this all led? A flurry of demand from wealthy and leisure travelers has become the new biggest driver for the current private aviation and charter service providers, which has turned out to be a sustainable revenue source for this industry sector throughout the pandemic post peak.

Despite a dreadful pandemic, will we have finally broken through the barrier to a time when more of the ‘masses’ understand the convenience, safety and value of private and charter flying as a more relatable means for travel? Time will tell.”

Gina Commissiong, Account Manager

“Cautiously optimistic, that’s the general mood amongst our members. I handle the East/Southeast US, and travel within the US is definitely trending up, but international travel is still lagging as the situation in the EU remains uncertain. As a result, there’s a greater demand for light jet categories and turboprops.

After a year of turmoil and shutdowns, the surge in requests for private aviation services is refreshing and encouraging, and the trend is towards Caribbean/vacation destinations. The restrictions are around COVID quarantine rules at certain destinations, and questions about the need for vaccination passports.

As the summer begins, the seasonal travel trend will offer a much-needed boost to the industry. Another bright spot is the return of organized sports and live, in-person entertainment. Many sports teams have published their rosters and music shows that were postponed last year are being rescheduled.

Business travel is still lagging, as most companies are wrestling with travel policies going forward, preferring the convenience and safety of virtual meetings for now. However, once business travel resumes, the thought is that business executives will opt for private flight solutions.

After surviving the hurdles of the last year, the private aviation industry is well-poised to take on any eventualities.”

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