A global travel crisis:
Firstly, let’s look at how the airline industry is coping. National authorities are imposing severe travel and border restrictions. Guidance is extremely prohibitive. The Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, for example, has ordered the country’s population of 60m people to stay at home and seek official permission before traveling. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised British nationals against all non-essential travel abroad for at least 30 days from March 17. Similar measures exist, and are being introduced, everywhere.
Unsurprisingly, airline traffic demand across the world is collapsing. Internationally, government bailouts will surely be essential to avoid more carriers following the UK’s Flybe, which ended operations on March 5 after the impact of coronavirus pushed the airline too far. Should politicians be doing more to support aviation? Were some measures to restrict travel too little too late? Opinions are divided.
Private jets rise to the challenge:
No one wants business because of a tragedy but, not for the first time, private aviation has responded superbly to public need in a crisis.
As international companies began to evacuate staff from China in late January, business jets came to the rescue. Here at Avinode we were proudly reminded of the industry’s fantastic success evacuating people from the Caribbean and Florida to avoid Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Casting his expert eye over this year so far, our head of insights and analytics Harry Clarke says: “We saw a significant increase in private aircraft charter flight requests following the COVID-19 outbreak. We saw a real spike in requests for flights departing China around January 24 when confirmed cases of the virus in the country rose above the 1,000 mark.”
And let’s not forget major carriers including British Airways and Lufthansa suspended direct flights to and from mainland China on January 29, making the evacuation work of private aviation even more important.
The bizav spike continued when, on March 11, President Trump announced a ban on visitors to the US from much of Europe, taking effect from March 14. As Harry says: “The next day [March 12], we saw record demand in the Avinode marketplace, with over 4,500 trips requested.”
In 2020, yet again, we have seen the unique humanitarian value of bizav, literally saving lives.
The spikes won’t last forever. In fact, as Harry says: “Activity around flight requests departing China has largely returned to the same level as in 2019 and, in Italy, after an initial surge in demand, the country-wide lockdown is causing flight requests to fall.
“For intra-European trips, charter will play a crucial role in the movement of critical cargo but April is likely to be a very tough month.
“Worldwide, demand could bounce back quickly when travel restrictions are lifted, depending on the state of the global economy.
“Overall, intercontinental charter demand is still on a positive trend. As different regions of the world experience the peak of the COVID-19 curve at different times, global repatriation and reopening will continue and shift focus. The intercontinental market could prove more resilient than other parts of our industry.”
Activities bizav has served so well for decades, from face-to-face business meetings to large public events, are exactly the types of activity COVID-19 has brought to a sudden stop. But our strong industry will survive this challenge, just as we survived the global financial crisis of 2008.
Reasons to be optimistic:
For the first time since January, China reportedly suffered no new cases of local transmission of coronavirus on March 18. Good news at last. The world is finally making progress in the battle against COVID-19. And ‘battle’ is an appropriate word. As New York governor Andrew Cuomo has said: “This is a war.”
Above all, our thoughts at Avinode are with anyone suffering as a result of coronavirus. We know the bizav community shares our feelings. Now as much as ever, we must work together.