A question about the health of the European charter market in 2025, divided panellists in the CJI Global 2020 forum: Which way for European charter? Most speakers believed the legacy of the Covid-19 global pandemic would, within five years, be positive for business aviation across Europe.
Kevin MacNaughton, MD Air Partner, predicted the charter market would retain many of the new customers drawn to it in the Covid-19 crisis. “The charter market will be stronger because the base level [of new customers] entering the market will start to mature,” MacNaughton told delegates. “And when they get the hook for flying privately, it’s hard not to continue.”
MacNaughton reported a shift in customer demographics; with leisure flights accounting for the vast majority of bookings and corporate bookings having dried up. He also noted a big increase in new customers.
Matt Barber, head of European Sales with PrivateFly, highlighted a similar boost in leisure charters. “The past few weeks have been extremely busy,” he said. “People are desperate to get away [on holiday] and leisure accounts for 90% of bookings.” Also, Barber noted a new trend of two families travelling in ‘bubbles’, which was leading to the rise in popularity of larger aircraft – offering more separation from the crew.
‘People are desperate to get away’
Asked if private jets were becoming the new business class, Matt Barber, from PrivateFly, said: Yes. “To get to your first-class seat on an airline, there are still masses of contact points unlike in a business jet. This is a good opportunity to show what private flights can do.” While video conferencing had its benefits, there was a strong demand for face-to-face meetings, to which business aviation could respond rapidly. “We can be agile – that’s the beauty of business aviation,” he said. (Pictured is a PrivateFly Cessna C525 Citation CJ2 jet).
Tanya Raynes, chair of Pula Aviation, was also cautiously optimistic. “While we face a bumpy and painful period ahead, I’m optimistic about the picture by 2025. We are a resilient industry. We won’t keep all the [newly-arriving] customers, but we will keep some.”
Although new customers will not desert commercial airline travel, they will increasingly come to appreciate the benefits of private aviation. “We’ve seen lots of enquiries from people we have not heard from before or those who once flew privately years ago and not since,” said Raynes. “They will realise this [private aviation] is a great leisure aviation travelling tool. And they won’t want to go back to commercial aviation travel – at least not for all their travel.”
Benefits of private aviation
But Justin Bowman, CEO of Air Charter Service, took a less positive view of the prospects for business aviation in 2025. “I think it will be net neutral,” Bowman told delegates. “After the Financial Crash, it took several years to retain some semblance of normality. By 2025, we will see it back to where it was before we entered the Covid-19 crisis.”
He also noted a recent reduction in charter rates. “There’s not doubt we have seen [charter] rates soften during April and May. That’s because we’ve seen too may air planes chasing too little business.”But rates had improved recently. Like PrivateFly’s Barber, Bowman noted families travelling together. “Two families travelling together in bubbles is a new trend. Whether demand returns from the corporates, when heads of businesses travel [while many employees use Zoom] that’s the million dollar question. And none of us has the answer.”
Bowman also urged the industry to get to grips with flight shaming. “We’ve got to address flight shaming and explain to the wider community that this [business aviation] is a great tool and how we use it.”
Meanwhile, more information about CJI Global 2020 is available here.
Which way for European Charter?
-Justin Bowman, CEO of Air Charter Service
-Matt Barber, head of European Sales with PrivateFly
-Kevin MacNaughton, MD, Air Partner
-Tanya Raynes, chair of Pula Aviation.