The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created a travel environment unlike any other year. Initially, we witnessed a surge of private jet charter enquiries. As travel has continued during the pandemic, getting families to their holiday destinations as well as flight bookings for essential business travel has been front and center during the past few months.
Our President of Air Partner USA, David McCown, has put together key market trends we have seen to date, and we take a look at how these will continue in 2021.
Private Jets enquiries will continue to surge
While there has been a considerable shift in thinking of travel as essential during this time, the demand for leisure travel has never been greater, especially post-lockdown. While Air Partner experienced a significant increase in private flying during the Summer of 2020 as many COVID-19 restrictions lifted, existing private flyers have continued to see chartering a jet as an essential way to travel with flexibility throughout the pandemic. Additionally, there is a heightened interest among first-timers who have never flown privately until now.
Our clients are requesting private jets to luxury and seasonal destinations from March onwards, flying to popular destinations in Florida (Destin, the Palm Beaches, Miami) and the Hawaiian Islands. For the extended winter season, ski destinations like Aspen and Salt Lake City are also of interest for those seeking outdoor activity. Right now, we are seeing numerous queries to fly privately to the Caribbean (including Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, St Maarten), Mexico and Costa Rica. We expect for a possible surge in demand during the Spring and Summer of 2021. For those flying, there will be an increased emphasis on ensuring that the experience is, first and foremost, safe but also memorable.
Vaccination passports may be required
As vaccination distribution increases across the world, the introduction of ‘vaccine passports’ for some countries has been suggested in reports. While the ethics and likelihood of this becoming a reality has been debated in the press, what is certain is that many countries will still have many different entry requirements relating to COVID-19, whether it is negative tests, temperature screenings, mandatory quarantining and immunization. As people begin travel for business and pleasure again, they will want to be certain they meet the necessary requirements, which may even change at the last minute.
A main appeal of private charter is that many of the ‘unknown’ factors are eliminated, giving customers a better sense of what to expect. There is added reassurance that exposure to the virus is minimized, especially while normal airport processes are experiencing even longer airport wait times due to the introduction of new health screenings, less frequent scheduled flights, social distancing measures, and existing security checkpoints. By being able to access a private aircraft from a private terminal, not only are points of contact with others reduced, there are valuable timesaving that customers will appreciate by avoiding the hassles of flying commercial.
With technological advancements, biometric passports, or a digital vaccine passport, are already being looked at for improved travel screenings with airlines and immigration offices, and this may even extend to being able to enter specific hotels, clubhouses, restaurants, sports complexes and more. The bespoke service that comes with flying privately with a business such as Air Partner guarantees these requirements can be understood and met.
Businesses will invest more in private aviation for flight solutions
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of how people travel for business. Over the last year, businesses have adopted virtual meetings, however many senior business executives still find face-to-face interaction critical to certain meetings and discussion will turn to the anticipation of a comeback of business travel once the restrictions lift.
While business travel was down by, approximately 50% during 2020, we expect it to bounce back by more than that once vaccine has been widely distributed. It is expected to emerge in the second and third quarters of 2021. Once restrictions ease and the vaccine has been more widely distributed, traveler confidence will slowly return. We expect for corporations and businesses with to require specialized private flight solutions, like Air Partner’s Corporate Shuttle Program, to help meet their organizational safety requirements and to transport company executives, employees and crew where regular air transport is require. Private aviation speaks to a wide range of industry-specific needs, from providing secure transport options, whether for flying entertainment industry folk, healthcare workers or oil & gas crews.
Major sporting events, film productions and live shows this year will be made possible with private charters
Private travel has never been more paramount for sports teams or entertainers. In the past it has been popular for its obvious benefits around security, privacy and flexibility. However, now it is essential to protect teams and talent from COVID-19 risks and give a greater degree of control over the end-to-end experience.
The recent Super Bowl being one of the most attended events for private flights, the FAA implemented temporary flight restrictions on the number of flights at Tampa Bay airports, with special flight procedures. Air Partner expects these stricter regulations to be in place at airports expecting high air traffic for anticipated events by professional sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA and MLB. While it is still early, there are intentions for major international sporting events to take place during 2021, including Copa América in South America and the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Understanding the effect on private jet availability, Air Partner expects it will need to cater to an increase in demand for private charter while encouraging advance bookings to secure flight plans.
The television and film industry are expected to rely more on private aviation for cast and crew flight arrangements, especially to meet any safety regulations, giving producers and performers peace of mind. Private flights have typically benefitted production schedules and travel logistics for talent, as well as transporting equipment for music and film. After a year of being postponed indefinitely, upcoming national and international music tours will likely rely on private air charter to fly musicians and artists from city to city.
‘Jet cards’ will offer greater personalization and convenience
Flying privately presents a safe alternative as much as it does the luxuries of a dedicated service. Based on requests from our clients and new customers, the interest and the preference to travel privately has undoubtedly increased. While many trips that would normally take place per annum have been cancelled due to restrictions, we are seeing an influx of new clients and a rise in interest for our JetCard program.
There is a greater degree of personalization with private jet membership, and with JetCard, Air Partner sees this as an important moment and opportunity to understand how to best cater to the specific needs of our private jet travelers, including their families and pets, and provide for the greatest amount of comfort and conveniences while traveling.
COVID-19 has created many uncertainties for travelers, which affects travel planning, and we have observed more hesitance to book too far in advance. Booking windows have narrowed, and we have seen a number of last-minute flight bookings
With the need to travel between city hubs and second homes, our JetCard members can book flights at a moment’s notice and use their hours flexibly, with the assurance of guaranteed aircraft availability of their preferred cabin category size along with a cancellation window should there be any change of plans.
Private travel will start becoming greener
Carbon neutral, green initiatives are already moving ahead. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized regulations for limits on emissions from newer airplane designs, and the US recently re-joined the Paris Climate Agreement. While private air travel clearly offers a host of safety, security and convenience benefits, private fliers are becoming more environmentally conscious and aware of their contributions to carbon emissions. Air Partner, along with many private aviation businesses, aim to address this by promoting carbon offsetting schemes and other environmental initiatives, and we expect to see industry developments around biofuel. While environmentally friendly electric aircraft are, realistically, some way off, leaner and cleaner engines is the next feasible step in private aviation, with possible developments in hydrogen fuelled planes expected this year.
Safety and health will continue to be front of mind
Combatting the virus has been a global effort, and public health and safety has become the priority in every continent and especially so for flying. As announced by the CDC in early January, the United States already requires a negative COVID-19 test to fly, and these requirements apply to private flights. More recent bans on entry from non-citizens entering the US from the UK, Brazil and China are currently also in effect. With COVID-19 and variants likely to still be present as vaccine efforts are ongoing, safety while traveling will continue be a major theme throughout 2021.
Private aviation has proven to be a reliable and safe mode of transport, as it limits contact with other people both on flight and when travelling through private terminals, and travelers can get to their final destination much sooner.
On all of our flights, crews are monitored and tested for COVID-19, and cabins are being cleaned for every flight. This is a very important factor for heads of household and corporate executives alike.
Air Partner expects private travel will continue to grow in popularity as the preferred method for transport, whether it is individually on private jets or groups on private commercial airliners. And for as long as uncertain times persists, travelers will want the most dependable charter options.
Safety goes well beyond the sanitization of aircraft. Operational safety has become even more important topic across the aviation industry of late. We continue our traditions for flight safety, vetting every aircraft with our industry-leading safety and quality management standards, and we have the highest requirements of crew flight time and time in type (of aircraft). With almost 60 years in aviation, our team is trusted for securing the best available options for all of our flights.