Private flying takes off again, commercial airlines still stalled
Guy Henderson, London
The on-demand nature of private flights can make it easier to avoid new quarantine measures before they kick in. /Extreme photographer/Getty Creative

The on-demand nature of private flights can make it easier to avoid new quarantine measures before they kick in. /Extreme photographer/Getty Creative


It is hardly a boom. But with the coronavirus wreaking havoc on much of the global travel industry, the relative resilience of private aviation is being held up by the sector as a rare success story.

According to WingX, a group that monitors private air travel, activity is still down 34 percent since March compared with the same period last year. But the figure for commercial airlines is 75 percent.

The latest statistics from the International Air Transport Association are out later on Thursday to include an August that's been fraught with changing travel restrictions in Europe and elsewhere and during which "staycations" became far more popular than overseas trips.

Essentially, many people do not want to get on commercial aircraft, or risk having to quarantine at either end of their journey. Private travelers are not immune to the latter, of course. But the on-demand nature of the service can make it easier to avoid new measures before they kick in.

It is also the curve of recovery since the height of lockdowns that suggests private air travel could be in for a good run. In August, for example, the sector was down 16 per cent compared with last year, while commercial flight activity still lingered at around half its 2019 volume.


In case you missed it:

· How restoring the oyster population could create cleaner seas

· Why are migrant and refugee numbers falling in Europe? 


In Europe, according to WingX, more people flew privately last month than they did in August 2019.

That surge may not last. With many executives working from home more often, leisure travel has been propping up demand. While holidaymakers have been packing their breaks into a shortened season, which is now coming to a close.

Air Charter Service is one of the largest global players in private aviation. "There is still a need for people or goods to move," says its CEO David Bowman. 

With continued disruption to commercial air travel, the private sector can fill in gaps that were not there before. Bowman says lockdowns brought spikes in demand for his company's services as governments rushed to repatriate hundreds of thousands of citizens, or as emergency equipment was flown around the globe – often from China.

Private aviation bosses also play up the hidden benefits of company executives continuing to travel privately even as travel restrictions ease, such as the broader fallout for a firm if its leadership team falls sick, or passes on the virus asymptomatically to other employees. 

Bowman says he saw a 258 percent increase in inquiries in July, with 44 percent of all bookings from people or companies that had never chosen private air travel before.

Fewer people are flying post-lockdown. But more of those who are, now choose private planes.