Culture / Travel

Private Jet Use Skyrockets During Coronavirus Pandemic — Luxury No Longer Seen as a Splurge

Wheels Up and Worry Free?

BY // 07.29.20

How sweet it is to drive across the airport tarmac to the awaiting private plane. Valets take your luggage and park your car. You ascend the stairs into a sanctum of luxury no less posh than a Four Seasons Hotel. Within minutes, it’s wheels up and you are soaring to Aspen or Santa Barbara or perhaps Jackson Hole.

Flying private has always been grand, but with COVID-19 flying the friendly skies, it becomes an even more valuable asset in the portfolio.

COVID-19 is changing the way those with substantial discretionary income address travel today. Charter, fractional ownership and full ownership of private aircraft is on the upswing. A McKinsey study previously found that 90 percent of those who can afford to fly private do not. It is a picture that appears to be changing as those with the means are moving away from commercial flights.

Massachusetts-based Sentient Jets reports that 50 percent of its business in June was first-time customers, a 127 percent growth in new customers over 2019. In May NetJets reported its best month for new customer acquisitions since 2007.

“Charter and fractionals have seen some of their best months ever in May, June and July as the traveling public still wants to make some time to get away and yet minimize their exposure and the number of contacts between home and the final destination,” notes aviation consultant Janine Iannarelli, president of Houston-based, global Par Avion Ltd. “So in essence COVID-19 is helping drive new business to the private aviation sector.”

Brian Chapman, president of Texas-based Wing Aviation echoes that sentiment.”Like the rest of the world, we have seen our flight activities come to a halt back in April amid the Covid-19 pandemic,” he says. “Since then, we have seen a steady increase in demand for private jet travel and are getting near to being back to pre-pandemic activity levels.”

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Those first-timers will likely be back as there is little dreamier or easier than flying private. The hassle-free convenience — no lines, no early arrivals necessary, no TSA screening, no crowds — combined with the beauty of nonstop travel to a multitude of destinations, many of which have been deleted from commercial carriers routes, make flying private one of life’s grandest luxuries.

“Wheels up at 10,” and you are off the ground in seconds, having arrived at the FBO only minutes before departure. Bliss.

Janine Iannarelli
Par Avion Ltd. president Janine Iannarelli deplaning at Hobby Airport. The aviation consultant’s company works globally on sales. (Courtesy photo)

Beyond the luxury of flying private, there are the safety accommodations. Those concerned about COVID-19 have real issues with commercial flying which include hundreds of airport touch points where travelers could contract the virus as well as the hundreds of other travelers encountered moving through major airports. The packed boarding and deboarding of the plane, where social distancing doesn’t exist, is another issue. Flying private through an FBO, there are far fewer touch points and few encounters with other travelers.

According to GlobeAir,  chartered aircraft are estimated to have 30 times lower risk for Covid-19 than flying commercial.

Megan Wolf, chief operating officer of Flexjet, tells Barron’s, “During past economic downturns and adverse world events, spending on private aviation by individuals and businesses was usually one of the first expenses cut and the last to resume. Because of the inherent safety afforded by private aviation in a Covid-19 world, this time around has been different. We are seeing record interest from those completely new to travel by private jet.

“Our primary demographic remains the ultra-high-net-worth individuals from all walks of life. What is different is their motivation for engaging with us,” Wolf continues.. “Now they are trying to avoid crowds to reduce their potential exposure to the coronavirus on top of all the other benefits to flying private, like time savings and the ability to reach more airports directly.”

Owning Your Own Private Jet

COVID-19 also plays into the sales of aircraft as newcomers consider their first purchase and current owners look into moving up.

“We started to see a rise in inquiries as early as late April and it became more pronounced in June,” says Iannarelli, who has more than three decades in the field. “Initially, it was from existing aircraft owners, but we have fielded more calls from first time buyers exploring whole ownership in the past two months than I think occurred all of last year.”

Examining the current situation, she adds, “To me, 2020 is the year of the small jet.  The aircraft that will seat four to eight passengers, have the range capability from 900 to 2000 nautical miles and costs anywhere from $1 million to $5 million. That is the sweet spot in the market for that is a price point that is achievable by a broad cross-section of private individuals and company owners who may have decided to increase their travel budget to include flying private.”

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