Celebrating charter

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dining table in Meridian Air Charter Challenger 605

The Air Charter Association held its annual Air Charter Excellence Awards last week. While the seven award winners were all happy, after a record year for charter, all of the 400 plus attendees were celebrating.

One broker stopped himself when he started asking a competitor how business was going. “Sorry, it’s a stupid question, I know it has been great for you as well,” he said.

The past 12 months have seen the most demand in the history of the 73-year-old Air Charter Association (formerly the Baltic Air Charter Association). With brokers working flat out in the summer to find both aircraft and slots to land them. At times the market truly was at capacity. 

While the mood was celebratory, Kevin Ducksbury, chair of the Air Charter Association and head of aircraft leasing, operations and compliance, Air Partner, did raise the issue of illegal charter. The Association has dubbed January 21st as ‘Fly Legal Day.’ On January 21st 2019, professional footballer Emiliano Sala and the pilot died when their aircraft – which was illegally offered for charter – crashed into the English channel. The full story is now told in a fantastic BBC Podcast –Transfer: The Emiliano Sala Story.

Strong demand for charter is also reducing the number of aircraft for sale. CJI spoke to a US Citation Jet owner this week who although looking to upgrade to a super-mid-size aircraft is putting off the decision for now. He said: “I do want to sell, but I can’t find an aircraft and quite frankly the CJ is doing so well from charter that I don’t want to sell it at the moment.”

The awards took place a few hours after the UK finance minister said that the country is now in recession. The Eurozone looks similar. “It is going to be tough for many people,” said one senior broker. “But not for all our customers. We may see some people stop flying but so many people have discovered business aviation and they are not going back.”

Charter flights are already falling. “We have seen the charter market soften since the summer, coming off the record peaks set in early 2022, with charter activity this winter dipping below where it was this time last year, but still substantially above charter demand in pre-Covid 2019,” says Richard Koe, MD, WINGX. He says that the US charter market is more resilient than Europe and that the US has also seen flight departments increase flying.

“Looking ahead, we expect the global charter market to retain some gains of its epic rebound after the pandemic, but the twin challenges of climate-optics and economic recession may drag European charter demand back towards 2019 levels during 2023,” says Koe.

Falling to 2019 levels during a recession would be an amazing achievement. Something to celebrate at next year’s awards.

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