Private jet business soars despite commercial airline revival

The private jet use that surged in the coronavirus pandemic is showing no signs of abating, even as passengers return by the millions to commercial airlines and inflation raises the cost of a charter.

Global flights on business aircraft rose by 10 per cent in 2022 from the previous year and were 14 per cent higher than before the pandemic in 2019, according to aviation data company WingX. Richard Koe, WingX chief executive, said demand for private jets has been “record-breaking” for the past two years.

Bookings for private flights began to accelerate in 2020 as the wealthy and business travelers sought to avoid crowds and Covid-19 restrictions in place at airlines. Pilot shortages and cutbacks to service at smaller airports have also attracted private flyers.

US private jet companies continued to report strong bookings last year. Flexjet said last month’s holiday season was the busiest in its history. EvoJets said bookings for the holidays began two months earlier than average, as flyers rushed to secure limited aircraft.

“We have individual and corporate members that have fully transitioned to flying private due to reduced or limited commercial service,” said Kenny Dichter, chief executive of private jet charter Wheels Up. The company’s revenue was up 39 per cent year over year, Dichter said.

Demand remains strong despite rising costs and concerns about private planes’ far higher rates of carbon emissions per passenger than commercial aircraft or trains.

“It’s the convenience thing for me,” said Jeffrey Alecci, a financial adviser from New Jersey who flew with his wife and two 75-pound dogs to Florida for the holidays.

There is some evidence that the private jet boom may be reaching a plateau as jet fuel and other costs climb. Prepaid private jet rentals rose 21 per cent to an average hourly price of $11,748 from December 2021 to December 2022, according to Private Jet Card Comparisons, an advisory service.

In December, flights on business jets and turboprops declined 2 per cent compared to December 2021. But they remained 15 per cent higher than in December 2019, according to WingX.

Still, almost three-quarters of private jet flyers expect to fly the same amount this year, according to a recent report by Honeywell. Only 4 per cent said they expected to fly less.

“Inflation never affected the 1 per cent,” said Kevin Singh, president of Icarus Jet, a private jet broker.

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