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Covid 19: Aviation boom times – Private jet use soars to pre-GFC levels

The wealthy are taking to the skies in private planes in levels not seen for years around the world and although there’s been a sharp lockdown slump in New Zealand, a company that handles the aircraft here expects the market to boom when the country opens up.

New aircraft models are being launched, futuristic interior fit-outs unveiled and in the United States — the world’s biggest market —the number of private plane flights is at levels last seen in the boom of 2007, before the global financial crisis (GFC) hit. Newer pre-owned jets are being snapped up before they hit the market.

Robin (Rob) Leach is the founder and principal of Air Center One. The first corporate aircraft fixed-base operator in New Zealand was established in 1984, and Leach says there is little international or domestic flying in the current lockdown.

However, he expects New Zealand to mirror overseas trends where there has been a strong recovery in private flying.

Last year, with airlines off international routes for long periods of time, private jets were the only way wealthy customers could get to some places and Leach said this gave them a taste of travel they don’t want to give up. They want to continue to avoid queuing for security and being in crowded places with others potentially carrying Covid-19.

Most of the country’s privately-owned planes — more than 20 — have remained grounded for long periods since last March and their owners have largely stayed within the country. Quarantine requirements meant few overseas-based aircraft were coming in, but Leach expects the market to surge quickly when open travel is allowed.

“‘ It will come back in spades. The thing is predicting when — I’d have more of a chance of winning Lotto.”

Jet maker Dassault says private flying is higher than before the pandemic.

“With the American economy booming, the market for new aircraft in the United States is growing. The outlook is also positive in Europe and the Middle East,” Eric Trapper, chairman and chief executive of Dassault Aviation told a media briefing last week.

“Demand for pre-owned aircraft has continued to be sustained throughout the past year, and second-hand inventory is now at historically low levels.

At a flagship show for the private plane industry in Las Vegas last week, components maker Honeywell released research which showed there was a minimal impact from Covid-19 on orders and in fact flight hours were 5 per cent above those pre-pandemic.

Its Business Aviation Outlook forecast is for 7400 new business jet deliveries worth US$238 billion from 2022 to 2031, up 1 per cent in deliveries from the same 10-year forecast a year ago.

In 2021, surveyed business jet operators reported a sharp increase in used jet purchase plans, 12 per cent above last year’s report, equivalent to 800 planes.

The sharp increase in demand for used jets, coupled with a lower-than-ever inventory of used aircraft available for sale, will inevitably drive additional demand for new-build business jets. Year to date, business aviation usage trends point to a nearly 50 per cent increase in flight hours in 2021 versus 2020.

Honeywell said the longer-range forecast through 2031 projects a 3 per cent average annual growth rate of deliveries in line with expected worldwide long-term economic growth.

Ron Draper, chief executive of Textron Aviation, the maker of Cessna jets, told Bloomberg his clients were discovering how much time and hassle they can save by avoiding commercial airports and the typical delays, flight cancellations and limited destinations.

Private fliers can design their own schedules and fly directly to smaller cities, making them more productive and more likely to keep flying business jets, he said.

“What this pandemic has done is brought new people into private aviation, and I see that continuing With the lack of commercial flight options and the productivity of business aviation, demand should remain strong for some time,” Bloomberg reported.

The fractional ownership firm NetJets and Embraer announced a US$1.2 billion deal for up to 100 of NetJets’ Phenom 300Es at the Las Vegas event, emphasising the strength of the business jet market. The aircraft are headed to both the US and Europe.

New models Dassault is developing two new aircraft types, the $70 million Falcon 6X ultra widebody, which — at least until the 10X comes along in 2025 — will feature the highest and widest cabin in business aviation.

The 6X can fly eight passengers and three crew non-stop more than 10,000km and can travel at more than 1100km/h.

The firm has opened new enlarged facilities in Dubai and Kuala Lumpur and its maintenance footprint now includes more than 60 service centres, 40 of them Dassault owned.

Business jets are criticised for their big carbon footprint as a result of high fuel use for few passengers and Trapper called for the accelerated development of sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) to be accelerated.

All Falcon aircraft can be operated today with a 50 per cent blend of SAF and even more in the future.

“The challenge is now to supply the airports with this fuel. This is the solution to decarbonise aviation.”

Both Boeing and Airbus supply business jets using the same aircraft types as used by airlines.These include Boeing 787s and 777s and Airbus Corporate Jets has sold an A350 as a private plane.

Airbus’ ACJ350 XWB can fly passengers 20,550km or more than 22 hours non-stop, making a flight from Auckland to London with 2000km to spare.

About 200 Airbus corporate jets are in service worldwide, flying on every continent, with a strong presence in the Middle East, and also in China and Europe. Customers comprisegovernments 50 per cent,private individuals 25 per cent, and corporate 25 per cent.

Airbus said earlier this year despite the pandemic restrictions, corporations had found a resilient solution to travel with business jets, providing a safe way to do business, with the use of private airports, ensuring business continuity.

“We cannot replace everything with video conferences, our customers still need to meet people face to face,” ACJ commercial vice-president Stan Shparberg said.

An ACJ330 has been given revolutionary treatment by Lufthansa Technik, a leading provider of cabin interiors for VIP and government aircraft. It was previewed at the Monaco Yacht Show.

The design, called “Explorer”, is based on the current trend for superyachts of the same name, which optimally fulfil their owners’ wishes to “go anywhere at any time” and “discover the world”.

For the design study Lufthansa Technik used the A330 as the platform as it offered sufficient space for a large number of new cabin ideas.

In addition to classic room elements such as bedrooms and guest rooms, bathrooms, offices, dining and conference areas, the study shows a variety of new ideas. One example is a projection system that covers large areas of the ceiling and sides of the cabin and can thus generate a new design on the walls and ceiling depending on the projection content used, such as an underwater world.

The current design is designed for about 10 to 16 VIP passengers and explicitly focuses on meeting the requirements of these passengers in terms of a maximum positive passenger experience.

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