July 21, 2020

Three respected aviation journalists offered timely perspectives and insightful predictions regarding the constantly-evolving COVID-19 crisis, answering questions from participants about what the future may hold for business aviation in a July 21 edition of NBAA’s News Hour webinar series.

Topics addressed in the hourlong discussion included training and hiring concerns brought about by the pandemic, possible challenges around aircraft emissions in a “new normal”, international travel restrictions and methods for marketing business aviation to a potential new clientele group.

Jon Ostrower, editor-in-chief of The Air Current, noted COVID-19 presents “a really fascinating dynamic” for the global aviation industry that can be likened to the effects of the Great Recession, while also being very different.

“We’ve got borders that are closed,” he noted, pointing to pandemic-driven changes to mission and aircraft types, “[which] reverses the fortunes of the industry from where we were 12 years ago,” and appears to be attracting new customers to business aviation, in part for reaching communities with reduced or discontinued airline service.

While personal safety remains a key driver for use of business aircraft during the pandemic – given passengers’ continuing concern about being in tight quarters with others – the industry is not immune from the health risks associated with COVID-19.

Allison Lampert, a Montreal-based aviation journalist with Reuters, shared her thoughts after testing positive for the coronavirus earlier this year, despite not experiencing the common symptoms. “I could have taken any questionnaire or any temperature check that day and I would have been able to get on board a plane,” she continued. “Barring the exception of rapid testing, without a vaccine it’s going to be very difficult preventing [asymptomatic] people like me from getting on board.”

All the panelists agreed COVID-19 represents both difficulties and opportunities for the industry. Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and principle at the Atmosphere Research Group, emphasized “we need problem solvers” to determine business aviation’s way forward.

“Whether it’s an engineering problem, a business problem, an operational problem or anything else…we need to attract people who can help us solve these problems that exist to help grow this market where it’s possible, and on a worldwide basis,” he added.

Finally, while many in the industry debate whether the country will experience a “V” or “U”-shaped recovery, Harteveldt expects that path to be “Rorschach-shaped. It is going to be so volatile, because this isn’t an economic-led recession [or] a policy-led problem,” he said. “Until we have more certainty about the availability and effectiveness of treatments and so on, frankly, a lot of this is going to be guesswork,” he added.