Popular airports and service providers on North America’s west coast.
By Melissa Singer
Last year was unprecedented for every facet of the aviation industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We know broadly how significantly business aviation has been affected.
Most aircraft operators and FBOs went into December 2020 knowing their year’s budget was irrecoverable due to business shutdowns and global travel restrictions imposed as a result of the crisis.
Industry experts like JETNET are collecting and analyzing as much data as possible from 2020 to help determine the effect of the pandemic. When reviewing 2020 data, there were 3 very distinct time frames.
First was the part of Q1 2020 before the virus hit the mainstream news. Second was the end of Q1 and, arguably, all of Q2 2020, when aviation businesses were scrambling to figure out what needed to be done to maintain essential operations as safely as possible in the midst of crisis, as well as how to materialize the proper safety measures into written protocols.
The third time frame started differently for each business, depending on how quickly they were able to understand the new mandated guidelines as they pertained to their unique business operations, and to design new protocols around the required guidelines.
An additional related factor was the lead time needed to procure the personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning and disinfecting products, and equipment for executing and maintaining these new safety protocols.
Although a Covid-19 vaccines exist, they are not yet widely available, so operating in the pandemic is still challenging. Going forward, 2020 will forever be referred to as a year of trying to establish a new normal.
In mid to late Q1 2021, industry data experts will begin to publish 2020 figures, which, when analyzed with data from 2019, will become a more significant milestone than previous year-on-year comparisons, as 2019 was the last “normal” year for aviation operations.
Pre-Covid intl travel trends
JETNET has provided a data set of the top 25 bizav airport city pairs on North America’s west coast. Those who are generally familiar with private aviation would surmise that Canada and Mexico are going to be the most popular international country destinations from the west coast.
The specifics are quite interesting for those diving into the detailed data for the first time, and provide great intelligence for those operating aircraft or companies that support private aviation. SJD ranks #1, holding 8 of the 25 top spots. YVR holds 6, and CSL holds 4.
The city pair of VNY–SJD topped the list with roughly 450 flights. With Mexico making up 16 and Canada 9 of the top 25 international city pairs, they will be watched carefully in 2021 to understand the continuing effect of Covid-19 on international business aircraft travel.
Traveling to/from Asia
Looking further out, travel trends to Asia will be a leading indicator of international travel’s recovery status, and 2019 will be a benchmark for years to come. Broadening our look to the top 25 business aircraft US–Asia airport/city pairs reveals some unique and significant trends.
First, the departure city travel trend shows ANC holding 13 of the top spots, and FAI (Fairbanks AK) holding 2, making Alaska the US state with the most business aviation departures when traveling to Asia.
Second, the arrival city travel trend is also highly concentrated, with Japan holding 11 of the top 25 spots – Tokyo holds 7 of those spots. China has 6 destinations.
Drawing from JETNET iQ, which is an aviation market research, strategy, and forecasting service for the business aviation industry, here is an interesting trend to watch to see if the pandemic has affected or will affect aircraft purchases in 2020, 2021 and beyond.
From top to bottom, the main 5 jet aircraft purchase inhibitors trending are: not needing additional aircraft, economic/regulatory uncertainty, high purchase price or trade-up costs, decline in business activity, and inability to sell current aircraft.
The order of ranking changes slightly by aircraft size between the small, medium, and large jet categories. The large jet segment is the top ranking category. Interestingly, not needing additional aircraft and inability to sell current aircraft do not change, regardless of aircraft size.
Similarly, the top 5 TP aircraft purchase inhibitors are: not needing additional aircraft, decline in business activity, high purchase price or trade-up costs, high operating costs, and inability to sell current aircraft.
Commercial vs private flights
Commercial aircraft travel has always paled in comparison to the private aircraft travel experience, but the pandemic widens the gap. Forget for a minute about the mandatory mask requirement from the time you arrive at the airport until you exit your destination airport, as that is an obvious source of reduced comfort.
On recent commercial travel trips, the availability of food and beverages at airports is widely diminished. The fact of there being fewer travelers has resulted in fewer amenities, and many executive lounges are temporarily closed.
FBOs, on the other hand, seem to be adapting more quickly to the return of customer amenities. On a recent trip to Tac Air at DAL (Dallas TX), The Wall Street Journal was conveniently available in digital format for touchless reading and enhanced safety.
Heritage Aviation at BTV (Burlington VT) had a plethora of healthy and convenient single-serve drink and snack options via vending machines. At FRG (Farmingdale NY), Republic Jet Center had just installed a single-serve designer water system with touchless operation capability for the luxury experience of creating your very own flavored still or sparkling water with a vitamin C immune booster.
This leads us to the question of whether coming into contact with significantly fewer people will become a decision driver for people to choose private aviation going forward. Actually, it could become as important a factor as comfort, convenience, and time savings to certain travelers, especially those with compromised immune systems.
Business jet traveler confidence
No one knows how long it will take to rebuild customer confidence to the point where, once again, there are 77 bizjet trips between Anchorage and Tokyo in a single travel year.
Aviation has a clear focus on working to bolster that confidence on multiple fronts by introducing new disinfection, protection, and safety protocols for crew members, passengers, aircraft, and FBO facilities.
On crew member protocols, on December 22, 2020, Flexjet announced that flightcrews would be required to take PCR Covid-19 tests at home with medical supervision before each tour of duty beginning January 2021.
Investing in this new protocol for its more than 830 flightcrew members spoke volumes about the company’s dedication to the safety of its crewmembers and passengers, which definitely increases traveling confidence for both groups.
On passenger protocols, logistics companies across transportation, hotels, and inflight caterers have implemented cleaning, disinfection, and operational protocols to instill customer confidence.
There is a significant number of new and quite visible signage explaining all the steps these companies are taking to fight the spread of the pandemic. There are safety seals on hotel room doors plus messaging throughout hotel common spaces trumpeting the measures that are being taken to keep customers safe.
Rental cars and limousines display similar signage and offer hand sanitizer to passengers, in addition to requiring face coverings. Global inflight catering expert Air Culinaire Worldwide (ACW) has remained open and has been servicing the aviation community throughout the pandemic with kitchens it operates across the US, and in Paris and London, in addition to its extensive network of vetted global catering partners.
While PPE, cleaning and disinfection, and the safety and security of both food handling and kitchens are not new to inflight catering, ACW has shared that it swiftly created a service video messaging the extra sanitization steps being taken to fog all of its kitchens and delivery vehicles with hypochlorous acid for the safety of all employees and clients.
That video went a long way to educate and build confidence for everyone involved.
Covid-19 has transformed cleaning and disinfection with nearly all operators, adding the spraying of a microbial protectant product that had not been the norm prior to the pandemic.
Both commercial and private aviation operators are now “protecting” their aircraft in addition to previous cleaning and disinfection practices.
David Allen Certified, an industry disinfection and protection expert, experienced a monumental surge in demand for its services in March 2020 on both the commercial and business aviation fronts.
The demands included much more than the obvious urgent call to decontaminate an aircraft that had a known Covid-19 exposure. Services in immediate demand were a rise in consulting engagements to write disinfection and protection protocols, and plans of executing for airlines, aircraft operators, and FBOs, which included employee education and training on using the correct products and equipment, assisting leadership in procurement of PPE, products, and equipment, as well as managing aircraft fleet cleaning and disinfection/protection programs.
Founder and CEO David Allen explains that the pandemic drove the creation of the David Allen Certified Licensed Partner Program, in which companies are trained to implement their own disinfection and protection protocols and to be able to offer these services to their clients’ aircraft, vehicles, real estate, and other corporate assets.
The demand for disinfection and protection expertise and services continues to grow across every business industry and in homes across the globe.
National Air Transportation Association (NATA), the leading national trade association representing the business interests of general aviation companies, also provides education, services, and benefits to members to help ensure their long-term economic success.
NATA displayed great agility in responding quickly to the need for an FBO cleanliness standard. It created and launched Safety 1st Clean, a cleaning standard safeguarding personnel, corporate assets, and the general flying public.
By June 30, 2020, 50 FBOs were already self-certified and participating. It was one of many examples of business aviation leaders banding together for the good of the industry at the onset of the pandemic.
It is impossible to predict when business aircraft will travel the globe at the levels of 2019, but the industry as a whole continues to exhibit a tenacity to do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of its crews, team members, and passengers.
Thus far, the level of dedication to enhancing safety, disinfection, and protection protocols to restore traveler confidence, demonstrates that it is a global top priority for the entire aviation industry.
This is the 2nd of a 2-part series focusing on international business travel trends from the US. Part 1 appeared in Pro Pilot, Oct 2020, p 28.
Melissa Singer is the CEO and founder of Moxie Global Consulting. She served as senior director of brand extension for Signature Flight Support, and has held senior leadership positions with Flight Options/FlexJet and the Walt Disney Co.