May 8, 2020
Following an encouraging start to the year that saw steady increases in business aviation traffic on a month-over-month basis, March marked a tipping point, as the industry confronted the harsh realities wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, noted Jet Support Services, Inc. (JSSI).
According to the firm’s Q1 2020 Business Aviation Index report, aircraft flight hours fell in March by 12.9% compared to the month before, resulting in the lowest recorded March flight hours for since the Great Recession. Hours flown in the first quarter of this year were down 5.7% compared to the same quarter in 2019.
“As expected, March flight hours declined steeply in the second half of the month,” said JSSI President and CEO Neil Book. “As the world economy began to shut down, so did business jet travel.”
While every region across the globe saw significant declines in flight activity in March, the largest percentage drops were seen in the Middle East (42.3%), Central America (30.9%) and South America (28%). North America – home to the majority of the world’s business aircraft – experienced a 16.9% reduction in flight activity versus February and a 25% drop compared to March 2019.
By aircraft type, large-cabin business jets experienced the largest decline in flight hours, dropping 15.5% compared to February, likely due to what JSSI termed a “virtual halt” in long-distance international travel in the second half of March. Other aircraft types were less affected, with “pockets of accelerated activity” in March among domestic charter and air ambulance operators and medical supply transport flights.
The decline in international flights also accounted for a 5.9% drop in business aviation activity throughout Europe in March versus February, although a surge in flights ahead of international border closures drove a 5.1% increase in total European business aircraft operations compared to March 2019.
JSSI CEO Book expects even more precipitous declines in business aviation activity for April, possibly dropping 75% compared to April 2019 numbers. However, he added that JSSI also anticipates “a very modest increase in the month of May from April flight hours, as a number of countries begin to slowly open back up.”