The patchy return of scheduled flights is diverting record numbers of wealthy travellers to private jets, prompting an aircraft crunch as the industry scrambles to increase capacity.
More than 4.2m private jet flights have taken place this year, according to aviation data provider WingX, with a record number in each of the past six months. In the first week of November they were up 54 per cent on the same period last year, and up 16 per cent on 2019.
FlexJet’s chief executive “pretty much spent the last nine months shopping for aircraft”, said the fractional ownership company’s European managing director Marine Eugene.
Industry executives say rising wealth among the rich, particularly in the US, has also stoked the private flying boom.
Demand is so high that Flexjet has stopped taking on new customers for its entry-level Jet Card programme. So has NetJets, which has reported the highest demand for flying in its near 60-year history and is investing about $2.5bn on 100 new aircraft.
Used jet inventories are at historic lows, according to Jefferies, with just 861 aircraft for sale in October, half the number available a year previously.
But sales are rising despite the low numbers available. Consultancy Ascend by Cirium said second-hand sales in the first nine months of the year had been almost 10 per cent higher than in the same period in 2019.
“For the first time in a very long time you are seeing distressed buyers . . . people are paying above asking price and there is simply a dearth of availability that has never been seen,” said Anna Kopinski, an analyst at mba Aviation.
Stephen Williams, managing director of Super Legacy, which upgrades used jets, cannot find enough parts to meet demand.
“The problem is really there is enormous demand at the moment, and we can’t get hold of the air frames . . . to be able to modify them as quickly as we would like,” he said.
Daniel Hall, senior valuation consultant at Ascend, said there was even strong demand for older aircraft that carry higher maintenance risk and operating costs.
Order backlogs for most new planes are approaching two years, according to Hall.
Benoit Defforge, president of Airbus Corporate Jets, the planemaker’s private jet arm, said demand was “higher than pre-pandemic levels”, with “a lot of newcomers arriving”.
Defforge said the first available delivery slot for one of its fitted ACJ220 aircraft, is “the beginning of 2024”.
The sector’s boom comes despite a heightened environmental cost: a private jet emits up to 20 times more CO2 per passenger mile than a commercial airliner, according to jet charter platform FlyVictor.
Some within the industry warn against overexuberance, given that it has historically been a cyclical business.
“The use of business aviation is absolutely linked to the perceived wealth and strengths of the economy,” said FlexJet’s Eugene. “Anybody in this industry who is not wary of this, I don’t know where they have been in the past few decades.”