Commercial Flights are Starting to Pick up Again, and Private Charters are Here to Stay

  • which company recorded record highs during the pandemic
  • How the pandemic effected private charter

Jon Sindreu, The Wall Street Journal

Although airlines have re-established routes to popular summer destinations, rich people are still paying to fly privately to places like Miami, Mexico, the Caribbean and even Europe. Vista Global, a Malta-based company that caters to this elite pocket of the aviation market, reported a record month in July, even after rapid growth in the first half.

Business-jet purchases are sensitive to economic downturns, and never quite recovered from the 2008 crisis. During the pandemic, executives have stopped traveling, and the Delta variant of the coronavirus is putting a wrench in carriers’ plans to lure them back.

Yet the Covid-19 crisis isn’t like past recessions. The rich didn’t rush to sell their planes and, in fact, more people turned to light aircraft to go on vacation and sidestep airports. Vista Global’s pay-by-the-hour subscription service, VistaJet, said 71% of incoming requests are from customers who haven’t regularly used business aircraft before. Many first-time users also opt for semiprivate services such as Vista Global’s Uber-like ride-sharing operation XO, or the fractional aircraft ownership model offered by Warren Buffett’s NetJets.

Now, though, it looks like part of the extra demand for private flying caused by the pandemic will stick around, prompting plane orders. Despite higher utilization, private jets seem to be an increasingly scarce commodity. The good news extends to big models: According to the latest survey by Jefferies, private-jet brokers now expect heavy and medium-size jets to experience the strongest post-Covid recovery—a U-turn from their responses in January. Shares of Canada’s Bombardier, the only pure-play manufacturer, have gained almost fivefold over the past year.

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