The hunger for big jets sharpens (again)
The hunger for big jets seems to be sharpening again. It’s an appetite whetted by demand for longer flights, still faltering airline schedules and the ageing big jet fleet.
But first some statistics, courtesy of Airbus Corporate Jets (ACJ), based on analysis of JETNET data collected in March 2023. It reveals there are 14,999 business jets in the US and around a third (4,876) are based in Texas, Florida and California. Turning to long-range (LR), ultra-long-range (ULR) and bizliner business aircraft, there are 1,548 based in the US.
Sean McGeough, vice president Commercial ACJ for North America tells Corporate Jet Investor (CJI) the number of private jets registered in the US shows “the huge opportunities for OEMs and brokers selling jets”. Demand is being fuelled by first-time private jet users and buyers, plus corporates placing a greater focus on staff well-being, he says. Another factor is aircraft technological advances, including a growing focus on reducing the environmental impact of flying.
Alex Fecteau, BBJ’s director of Marketing, links new demand directly to the reduction in commercial travel, particularly for international sectors. “Although commercial has recovered to pre-pandemic levels domestically in many places, the lagging recovery in the long-haul international travel has driven demand for the long-range jet sector,” he tells us. “People with the means want and need to travel.”
Demand for very large jets (BBJ category) is up across the board, but varies, according to segments, which include: head of state or government, VVIP private, corporate and charter demand. “For the BBJ category (very large jets) the peaks and valleys are more muted than for the next sizes down, governments tend to be more stable with longer range procurement, but those are still up pretty significantly,” says Fecteau. “VVIP interest is up, as with consummated transactions expected to follow. But in the large jet segment, buyers are concerned with being dox’d [having personal information revealed online] it seems, so are cautious about being seen with the larger machinery, same for the corporate segment.”
Gulfstream also reports robust demand, particularly for international travel. Scott Neal, senior vice president of Worldwide Sales, Gulfstream tells us: “International travel is very important. Gulfstream designs and builds aircraft that are capable of operating around the world with ranges up to 8,000nm. We are seeing international travel and customer interest increase particularly in Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.”
He adds: “The need for business aviation has never been stronger, and customers are showing interest across our full fleet of aircraft.” The G650ER continues to be one of the OEM’s top selling aircraft and there is significant demand for the new G700 and G800, says Neal.
McGeough, at ACJ, believes replacing the ageing big jet fleet is becoming a decisive factor. Around 5.4% (815 aircraft) of the US business jet fleet is currently for sale, he says. The corresponding figure for long-range, ultra-long-range business jets and bizliners for sale is 5.5%. “However, with 779 of these aircraft over 10 years old, we expect to see more owners wanting to replace their aircraft with newer, more efficient models,” says McGeough. “This is especially true as the focus on new technology, Sustainable Aviation Fuel [SAF] and greater efficiency in business aviation increases.”
In addition to fleet replacement, ACJ is seeing more companies supplement their current fleet with larger aircraft that have similar or even better fuel economy and operating economics as their current aircraft, says McGeough.
Questions about buyers’ and users’ interest in environmental factors draws a mixed response. Fecteau, at BBJ tells us: “This is important to many of our government and corporate customers, however, we don’t find it to be a critical decision point among buyers frankly.” But there is growing concern. “Although those items are not key decision factors for customers, they are becoming very aware of the issues with the protests and objections to the appearance of privilege and the belief that private flyers think ‘the rules are for thee, not for me’.”
McGeough agrees US business places a significant focus on reducing the environmental impact of their flights. “This will increase in terms of offsetting, but also in the measures taken to reduce carbon emissions including more efficient aircraft and the use of SAF,” he says. Last year ACJ commissioned research with senior executives of US businesses with annual revenue of more than $500m. Of those senior executives whose companies use business aviation, 57% said half or more of their flights are carbon offset. Within three years, they expect the figure to be more than two thirds (67%). They also believe their companies will eventually insist on using SAF whenever available.
Neal believes sustainability is a very important topic for Gulfstream customers and the industry. “Our commitment to sustainability can be seen in the significant investments Gulfstream has made over the past decade to meet the industry’s goal of being net-zero carbon by 2050.”
Meanwhile, Boeing says its entire fleet is planned to be capable of using 100% SAF by 2030. All Airbus commercial aircraft, including the ACJ TwoTwenty, are capable of flying with up to 50% SAF and Airbus’s target is to achieve 100% SAF certification by 2030, says McGeough.
So, while some clients’ hunger for big jets may be intensifying, not everyone shares a big appetite for greens – just yet.
Above: BBJ’s Alex Fecteau links new demand for big jets to the cuts in commercial airline schedules.
Top: All Airbus commercial aircraft, including the ACJ TwoTwenty, are capable of flying with up to 50% SAF.
Below: Gulfstream’s G650ER remains one of the manufacturer’s top selling aircraft