April 21, 2020

Despite an early uptick in some charter operations at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in mid-March, most charter operators are now seeing a substantial decrease in flight requests and activity.

“Our activity is about 25% of the norm for this time of year,” said Andy Priester, president of Illinois-based Priester Aviation.

Other charter operators report significant decreases in flight demand, with some completely halting flight operations. At least one large charter operator recently parked its entire fleet and furloughed all pilots.

These anecdotal reports coincide with recent WingX data, which indicates business aviation activity overall is about 20% of normal activity.

Priester believes the charter market will see four main phases of COVID-19 response and recovery. The initial flurry of activity in mid-March, with people returning to their homes to shelter in place, was Phase 1. Phase 2 is going on now, with shelter-in-place orders limiting travel to essential trips only.

Priester predicts Phase 3 will be “cautious” travel: a prolonged period in which charter passengers, with a new level of acceptable risk, begin to fly again for business and perhaps some personal reasons.

Priester believes the final phase will be an eventual uptick of slow and prolonged growth.

“There’s going to be a new paradigm,” said Priester, explaining that the economic impact of this pandemic might have a lasting effect on charter operations. “The way businesses spend money going forward will be different. How we do business as a nation is going to be different, and this might influence how people travel going forward.”