In the first eight months of 2012, Europe has experienced a 10% increase in ultra-long-range (ULR) jet departures, according to Eurocontrol data analyzed by Avinode (Booth 2120). This increase stands in stark contrast to the downward trend currently affecting other jet categories on the continent. On the surface this trend might seem to contradict general market forces in the region, but Avinode believes it reflects the vast differences between general aviation consumer groups in Europe.

Consumers of ULR jet travel are, by and large, far less sensitive to shifts in the economy then those who choose to fly on other jet classes. Travelers in this sector commonly own their aircraft and operate them mostly for personal use. In fact, 61% of all ULR flights in Europe are flown under G flight rules, which preclude charter. This is almost the exact opposite of other jet categories where, on average, 62% of flights operate under charter-friendly N flight rules.

The United Kingdom, the busiest source of ULR travelers in Europe, is responsible for 14% of all ULR departures on the continent, followed closely by France with 13.9% of departures. Next in line come Switzerland with 12%, Germany with 6% and Spain with 4%. Germany and the United Kingdom lead growth in the sector, having experienced ULR travel increases of 24% and 10% respectively, notes Avinode.

Russia and the United States are also significant contributors to ULR traffic in the region. Inbound flights from these two countries have seen increases of 15% and 8% respectively over the last eight months, while outbound traffic has also experienced a boost. Traffic from the UK to the US has seen a year over year increase of 26% over the last eight months, while traffic from Germany to Russia has also increased by 26% in the period.

Avinode’s data goes on to indicate that despite the number of ULR jets in the air, customers are not actually using the long-range capabilities of these aircraft. Instead, they are often travelling relatively short distance and enjoying the luxury of a large cabin aircraft for what is effectively “vacation flying.”

By far the most popular destinations for ULR flights into and within the EU, says Avinode, are those associated with leisure travel. Flights from the UK to Italy are up 12% while flights from Germany to the South of France are up 37% and flights from Russia to Nice have increased by 54% in the first eight months of the year. The last represents the majority of Russian ULR traffic into Europe, receiving 143% more ULR flights from Russia than Geneva, the second most popular destination for inbound Russian ultra-long-range jets.

Against this background, Avinode figures also show that overall business traffic is down in Europe, as it is in the United States. The first half of 2012 was very similar for the US and European markets, with the former experiencing a 2.8% decrease in business jet traffic while the latter saw traffic decline by 2.7%. Using Eurocontrol data, Avinode concludes that the European market experienced a 1.1% decline in business jet traffic in June 2012 compared with June 2011, despite hosting two major sporting events. July saw the trend continue with a 3.5% decline over the same month last year.