How the Covid-19-driven boom in private jets is still flying high



African News Agency


GUY Stockbridge runs multiple businesses from his headquarters in central California, including landscape companies that ripple across his home state and a utility solar business with operations in 17 states. Flying is a way of life for Stockbridge and others at his company, Elite Team Offices, based in Clovis. For years they flew both privately and on commercial flights out of Fresno, roughly 10 miles from Clovis. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and private jet ownership became more and more attractive. “Buying a jet has been on my mind for years, but Covid-19 definitely added to the equation!” Stockbridge said. He is not alone. A shift toward private flying that many saw as a necessary luxury during Covid-19 is now showing signs of becoming something else: a pricey but sought-after alternative to a premium ticket on a commercial flight. Many stayed for the convenience, with analysts and industry executives saying they see more first-time jet owners and families, and even smalland medium businesses flying private. Airlines had an 80% share of premium travel in 2021, down from 90% before Covid-19, according to Alton Aviation Consultancy. Business jets were often associated with entertainers and top executives. They now account for a quarter of US flights, roughly twice the pre-pandemic share, according to research and consultancy WINGX. And consultancy McKinsey & Company estimated that before the pandemic, only 10% of those with the means to travel privately did so. Flying private covers a whole gamut of transport. For some, like Stockbridge, that means owning a private plane. Other services include operators of charter flights that sell either by the seat or the entire plane, as well as services that sell fractions or shares of jets. It all comes at a cost. Stockbridge took delivery this month of a Cessna Citation M2Gen2, a light jet made by Textron, which he said can turn travel to his out-of-state businesses into a day trip. The plane, which seats up to seven, lists for $5.85 million (about R93 787 200). Charters and other private jet services may be cheaper than owning a plane, but they still carry gold-plated prices. Other operators are also seeing gains. “We are still seeing new entrants continuing to come to the market,” said Megan Wolf, chief operating officer at Flexjet, a global provider of fractionally owned jets. Textron reported quarterly earnings last week that topped estimates, signalling that an expected levelling-off in business jet demand has yet to occur. “If anything demand has accelerated,” said Vertical Research Partners analyst Robert Stallard. Analysts do expect a rebound in commercial flights to eventually draw some wealthy travellers back to scheduled airlines. But there are signs that some of the shift to private jets could be permanent, especially on shorter-haul flights. Not only are major carriers pulling out of such routes because of pilot shortages, the flights are comparatively less expensive than using private jets for overseas trips. |