With the commercial aviation sector still reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s been renewed interest in the business aviation market.
Before Covid, May would be the month that the major players and aircraft take centre stage at EBACE in Geneva. Like may of the industry’s events, this year’s show went virtual.
Dassault’s long-awaited 6X got into its flight test programme earlier this month with two aircraft now flying. But the French manufacturer topped that with the unveiling of new flagship, the Falcon 10X which goes head to head with Bombardier’s Global 7500 and Gulfstream’s G700 – competing at the very top of the private aviation market with ultra-long distance, wide spacious cabin, fast jets. The Falcon 10x, powered by two Rolls Royce pearl engines, has a 7500 nautical mile range, and the cabin cross section is larger than some regional jets. All three of these ultra large, ultra long range jets would get the VIP or corporate client anywhere in the world, in a single hop.
Value of chartering a private jet emerged during pandemic
At the virtual EBACE conference, some of the leaders of the business aviation majors agreed this market segment is likely to be a hit. President of Boeing Business Jets, James Detwiler and Embraer CEO Michael Amalfitano said there were already promising signs of recovery.
Detwiler said: “I’ve read reports that over a million people for the first time travelled on private jets in the year 2020. And they now see the value of chartering a private jet. For both work and leisure purposes.”
Amalfitano added: “During the pandemic period, business aviation fared very well. And industry has proven to be resilient. Business aviation, as you know, presents less touchpoints to its users. So in turn, we have seen more first time buyers than ever before, while corporations are also experiencing renewed interest in private aviation.”
Movements at Dubai South VIP terminal nearly three times rate of 2019
United States Private jet company Wheels Up reported a 68 per cent jump in first-quarter revenue and 56 per cent increase in active members, as growing wealth creation and pandemic fears, continue to drive demand for flying private. Dubai South has just announced that through the VIP terminal, they have had a record 4,900 plus movements for the first quarter of 2021 – way more than even 2019 which recorded just under 1,700.
In India, private jet operators have registered an increase in the number of flights every successive month since last October. Whether this continues after commercial airline services return to full flow remains to be seen, but the OEM leaders think the safety and security experience of Covid will still be a driver.
Éric Martel, President & CEO, Bombardier said that conversations around the switch to business aviation started taking place in April last year. “A year ago, this was just a theory,” he said, “But I’m confident that if we do a good job together as a community that we will attract a lot of new people and they will stay in our business.”
First time buyers coming back in third and fourth quarter
Gulfstream President Mark Burns added: “I think a lot of people now understand the value of business aviation in general aviation, I think you see a lot more interested parties in ownership. We’ve had a number of first time buyers that have not owned aeroplanes before, they may have chartered or own fractional or something of that nature. But first time buyers of full aeroplanes really come back into the market in the third and fourth quarter, and that transit positioned over into 2021 as well.”
Supply chain issues have been a worry for the OEMS during the pandemic. President & CEO of Textron Aviation Ron Draper said the company was beginning to experience supply constraints and inflation in the price of metals and raw materials. He added: “I think the industry is going to experience a supply chain tightening in the months and maybe a year or two ahead as that supply chain which may have lost capacity in during the pandemic era.”
Another “threat” to the success of the business aviation sector is the negative perception of business aviation’s environmental credentials. Yet the new 10X Pearl engine from Rolls-Royce flies on 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Martel said more work needed to be done on changing perceptions – both explaining to people within the industry that sustainable fuel exists and promoting this to communities outside of the sector.
SAF has potential to drive down emissions
Benoit Defforge, President of Airbus Corporate Jets (ACJ) said the company has “always been committed to leading the decarbonisation of our industry.” He explained: “Our ambition is to be the first to bring a zero-emission aircraft to the to the market by 2035. ACJ, of course, is part of this strategy and will benefit from the Airbus technology breakthrough, then we believe that SAF has the potential to become a major driver for CO2 reduction.”
Didier Kayat, CEO of Daher, urged the sector to be responsible and reinvent the business. “You have to be pioneers again – aviation has always been a business of pioneers.”
Burns added that technological developments, such as 3D modelling and robotic tooling, were enabling the manufacturers to build aircraft more safely, more efficiently and with less waste.
Business leaders optimistic about sector
Business leaders were optimistic for the return of travel, as Defforge explained: “We know that more than 80 per cent of the people who can afford to find private are not doing so. We observe during the pandemic that some of these individuals or corporations are starting to fly privately. This is very good news for industry. It is amazing how business aviation is bringing freedom to fly, wherever you walk from point to point in a safe and comfortable way.”
As the world recovered from the Covid pandemic, Detwiler predicted that the sector would only grow stronger. He added: “The outlook for aviation is strong. We only need to look at our ultra high net worth individual customer set and see that they’ve weathered the financial challenges of the pandemic. And also the first time the significant amount of first time travellers in Charter Business Jet operations over a million new passengers in 2020 alone, to know that the outlook is very strong.”