Argus Predicts Bizav Rebound By Summer

The Pilatus PC-12 was the busiest business aviation aircraft in 2020.
Credit: Pilatus Aircraft

Business aviation flight activity in the U.S. will start to approach its 2019 prepandemic level this summer, Argus International predicts.

Presenting its 2020 Business Aviation Review and 2021 forecast on Feb. 4, Argus said year-over-year flight activity should begin to rise in March and exceed the 2020 monthly level in June by 26%. But that will still be 6.5% less activity than in June 2019.

Large-cabin international and Part 135 charter operations will be key indicators of a recovery from the sharp decline in flight activity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Travis Kuhn, Argus International vice president, market intelligence.

“We’re going to pay close attention to large-cabin activity. [Flight] hours plunged 36% year-over-year in 2020; that’s as a result of countries instituting lockdowns, and it halted long-haul flying,” Kuhn said.

“A key sign of our recovery is going to be that large-cabin segment,” he advised. “The 135 industry is positioned well ... This is a segment of the industry that has actually grown the amount of people that it would normally [fly]. If the industry does recover and we start to see progress on the vaccine rollout, the 135 industry is probably positioned better than any to return to growth very quickly as we move through 2021, particularly in the second half of the year.”

Last year started with expectations for continuing growth, but instrument flight rules (IFR) departure-landing flight activity dived by 70% year-over-year in April 2020 as the pandemic intensified, Kuhn said. Overall, flight activity declined 24% from 2019 and flight hours by 22.5%, according to Argus TRAQPak data.

The small-cabin fractional market was the best performing aircraft segment in 2020, with flight activity down by just 15% compared to 2019. Part 135 on-demand carriers represented the best performing operational segment, down 17.7% in flight activity. 

“If you look at the turboprop, small cabin, and midsize [segments of Part 135], you can see everything was pretty much off about 16%,” Kuhn said. “What hurt 135 even more was the large-cabin segment, which was off 27%. No surprise, the large-cabin segment was also the hardest hit [aircraft] segment, down 32.4%.”

The Pilatus PC-12 single-engine turboprop was the busiest business aircraft type in 2020, as it was the previous year, with 209,170 flights. This was 14.3% less than the PC-12 flew in 2019.

Teterboro Airport (KTEB) in New Jersey, the top business aviation airport in 2019 with 73,159 departures, saw flight activity plummet by half to 36,508 departures last year. Chicago Midway International Airport (KMDW), with 24,998 departures last year, saw the second sharpest decline (47.2%) among the top 25 airports, followed by Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (KLAS), down 39%.

“Teterboro was hit dramatically,” Kuhn said. “We did start to see demand recover as we moved through the second half of the year, but the hit it took in Q2 and early Q3 really just incredibly dropped those numbers.”

He added: “The traditional business markets—Teterboro, Chicago—those were the two largest drops in 2020. On the flip side, the leisure destinations performed very well.” Palm Beach International Airport (KPBI) in Florida saw flight activity decline by just 1.1%, while airports in Scottsdale, Arizona; Naples, Florida; and Aspen, Colorado, experienced increases.

Bill Carey

Based in Washington, D.C., Bill covers business aviation and advanced air mobility for Aviation Week Network. A former newspaper reporter, he has also covered the airline industry, military aviation, commercial space and unmanned aircraft systems. He is the author of 'Enter The Drones, The FAA and UAVs in America,' published in 2016.