June 25, 2020

Concerns about personal safety when traveling in the COVID-19 environment appear to be driving new customers to explore business aircraft charter options, according to several operators across the United States.

Quincy, MA-based Sentient Jet recently noted inquiries for charter quotes rose by 241% in May from the end of March. Company CEO Andrew Collins attributed much of that growth to customers new to business aviation.

“The encouraging demand for private aviation from new customers, and in particular for jet cards … indicates that travelers are making a long-term commitment to flying private and using it as a utility rather than a lifestyle amenity,” he said in a company statement.

Taylor Butterfield, flight department manager for Cutter Aviation in Phoenix, AZ, noted “about a 30% uptick” in new clients over the past two months. “Some have come to us in lieu of flying with the airlines,” he said. “I think some of that is largely to avoid airports and the close-in experience with the TSA line.”

Across the country at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (FXE), airport manager Rufus James detailed a new advertising campaign aimed specifically at potential customers who may be new to charter travel and unaware of the many choices available from operators at FXE.

“A couple of years ago, we took ads out in magazines and radio to get younger kids interested in aviation, and we got quite a few responses,” he said. “Realizing how effective those ads were, we figured we’d do the same to promote on-airport businesses during the pandemic and introduce people to charter options.”

That strategy appears to be working. Marshall Myles, CEO of Fort Lauderdale Executive Jet Center, one of four FBOs at FXE, said his business has also witnessed an uptick in new inquiries for charter travel.

“We’re seeing a lot of new people who have never [flown privately] before, and they understandably have a lot of questions,” he said. “‘What is a fractional card? How many passengers can the airplane take? What does it cost, and why?’ They’re trying to learn it all.”

While the safety and security of business aircraft make such options appealing, operators must also ensure their own policies and procedures fulfill these new customers’ expectations. “They’re traveling because they need to be somewhere, and we want to make sure that that’s a good choice for them to continue traveling,” Butterfield said.