High demand coupled with lack of charter aircraft has created a perfect storm for executive aircraft brokers – on both sides of the Atlantic. So much so that for the first time in her 25-year career Wendi Matthews-Ortiz, Vice President, Executive Aviation USA at Hunt and Palmer PLC had to inform clients on two recent occasions – there weren’t any aircraft available at their price points.
“The pandemic brought a rush of newcomers to charter when the scheduled airlines stopped serving regular routes,” said Wendi.
And with IATA now forecasting the airline industry won’t be back to 2019 levels until 2025, many frequent flyers who typically fly first or business class, are keeping loyal to charter.
Coupled with that, many private jet aircraft owners withdrew their managed aircraft from the charter market last year. Operator consolidation from the likes of Vista Global and Wheels Up has seen more charter aircraft moved on to fractional programs or jet cards. Even the smaller, established operators have started incentivizing regular customers with cards for their own fleet.
Lack of flight crew has further added to the pressure, Wendi acknowledged. Workforce issues, in the flightdeck and on the ground, are not just affecting the airlines. As airlines build back, they are poaching business aviation pilots, she said, echoing the job retention issue highlighted by operator Short Hills Aviation at last year’s NBAA-BACE in Orlando.
Discounted pricing on one way / empty legs for the past two years has proven to be a major disruptor too, added Wendi. “Obtaining a Gulfstream IV charter for the equivalent price of a light jet was like winning the lottery, but even so, some clients are now complaining – that’s 50% more than we paid last year,” she said.
Demand is such that Hunt & Palmer has added existing fractional clients to its customer base for supplemental charter lift, either from a different category of jet, or to fly to a region their provider doesn’t serve.
“Jet cards are a good option if you fly upwards of 150 hours a year, but we’re also seeing a raft of restrictions creeping in which is encouraging mix and match trips which can be more cost effective.”
In the USA both NetJets and Flexjet have added more new aircraft, while Vista Group and Wheels Up have widened their group to take on more capacity. Private charter in the USA is up 28% in the last quarter versus the same period in 2019, according to Richard Koe, CEO of aviation analyst WINGX, while global movements are 23% up. And this is without capacity growth.
Banks and roadshows coming back
The good news is that after 12 months dominated by leisure traveler bookings – popular destinations like Colorado for skiing, Mexico and Caribbean for vacation, the business community, especially the banking sector, is returning to charter, noted Hunt & Palmer.
“We have quoted multi-leg trips for a number of roadshows for banking customers which typically book large-size cabin charter aircraft. More good news comes in the shape of new types entering the charter market – including the transatlantic-capable Embraer Praetor 600. Other gamechanger coming include Dassault’s Falcon 6X and 10X, Gulfstream’s G700 and G800 and Bombardier’s Global 8000 with its phenomenal 8,000 nm range,” said Wendi.
This changing landscape makes for an interesting Schedulers and Dispatchers Convention which is taking place in Nashville’s Music City Convention Center this week.
“Schedulers is a great opportunity to re-engage with existing and new clients. Even with a near 400 exhibitors it’s an intimate show – minus the aircraft and hardware exhibits and a static display with a focused international visitor base,” noted Wendi.
“It affords valuable networking with operators, corporate flight departments, aircraft dispatchers, schedulers, trip planners, FBOs and fuel companies, supplemented by a diverse and informative conference program.”
Joining Wendi at Schedulers and Dispatchers are Hunt & Palmer’s senior executive aviation team Neil Harvey and Sandy Boyer from the UK and Paul McCluskey from the USA. Booth 816.