Bizav Flight Hours Down 30%, Honeywell Says

The cabin of a Cessna Citation Sovereign that is available for immediate charter from aviation management company Desert Jet.
Credit: Desert Jet

Business aviation flight hours are down 30% compared to last year, says avionics and engine manufacturer Honeywell Aerospace, which predicts a return to normal flight activity in 2022.

In a Dec. 2 state-of-the-industry presentation to the NBAA VBACE virtual conference, Honeywell Aerospace CEO Mike Madsen was generally optimistic about the prospects of business aviation rebounding from the downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Honeywell expects the recovery will start in the fourth quarter—flight hours were down 19% year over year in October—but the improvement trend was interrupted when the pandemic worsened in November.

The impact of the pandemic varies by ownership model, says Honeywell, which conducts an annual survey of business aircraft operators. Corporate aviation has been hit hardest; flight hours are down 40% year over year, both because of the global health crisis and the general economic downturn it has caused, Madsen said. Next in order of impact are managed and privately-owned aircraft, down 25%; fractional ownership, down 23%; and charter aircraft, down 15%.

Business aviation has fared better overall during the pandemic than the airline industry, which is down 50% in flight hours. And charter operators and fractional ownership companies appear to have benefited from people upgrading from first-class airline seats to personal and some business travel by chartered or fractional flights, Madsen said.

“What we’re hearing is that personal travel has come back a bit,” Madsen said. “There has been some migration of travelers from the first-class commercial cabin into charter aircraft and fractionals. Business travel remains suppressed, but certainly stronger than what we’re seeing in the air transport space.”

Findings by JetNet iQ complement the Honeywell findings. The market research firm, which surveys owners and operators of fixed-wing turbine aircraft, said business jet takeoff and landing cycles in October were down 32% year over year for U.S. Part 91 general aviation operators. But the number of cycles were up by 1% each for Part 135 charter and Part 91K fractional operators.

“If you look at some of the other areas, whether it’s charter Part 135 or Part 91K fractional program holders, that activity level has really rebounded,” JetNet iQ Director Rollie Vincent said during a separate VBACE presentation. “In fact, I would challenge any industry to have performance numbers like this.”

Madsen believes the migration of passengers from scheduled airline cabins to chartered and other jets during the pandemic will be more than a temporary phenomenon.

“The folks at the fractional [companies] I’ve spoken to think that some of this is here to stay, particularly because we all know of the convenience you get through private travel,” Madsen said. “There is certainly a class of passengers that has experienced that now that hadn’t experienced it before. Also, there has been a lot of work done to make that class of travel more cost-effective and more competitive.”

He added: “Airlines are going to struggle to get airplanes back up in the short run, so I think there’s a chance here for some of this to gain traction and really stick.”

Bill Carey

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.