Private jets starting to take off again, flight hours up 11% in Q1 '11


Well-known member
Apr 30, 2006
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Private jets, largely grounded by the recession, are taking off once again — a sign that businesses may be feeling more confident despite the still shaky economy.

JSSI, a company that arranges maintenance for hundreds of corporate aircraft, saw an 11.4% increase in flight hours in the first three months of this year vs. that period last year. In April there was a 7% jump in flying time among its roughly 1,300 customers, compared with April 2010.

The findings mirror those of other analysts who say that after a steep decline during the economic downturn, and after a public backlash against corporate excess, private jet travel is making a comeback. Still, it's way off from its peak.

"We are not back to late '07, early '08 levels, but we're really off the bottom of where we were," says Lou Seno, president and CEO of JSSI. "In the fall of 2008, following the decline of the financial markets … flying literally fell off the charts, and because of the economy and everything else, it has been slow to recover. But the recovery we're seeing has been encouraging."

Industry analyst Brian Foley noted that private flying has been increasing since March 2009, when the departures and landings of business jets had plummeted 35% from their peak in April 2008. It's now down about 10% from that high point, he says.

Certain players in the private plane arena, such as charter operators and fuel providers, are doing better than others, Foley says.

"Those folk are all seeing some early recovery in the industry," he says. "However, aircraft manufacturers, those who make business jets, they're still far from recovery."

During the first quarter of the year, shipments of general aviation aircraft dropped 4.6% compared with 2010, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and billings plunged 19.6%. Piston-engine planes, the smallest and least expensive of aircraft, represented the bright spot, with shipments rising 13.3%. Turboprops, however, dipped 6.7%, and business jets plummeted 22%.

Many corporate jets were parked during the economic downturn — not just because of corporate financial concerns, but to quell the public outcry sparked when heads of the nation's Big Three automakers arrived in Washington by private plane in 2008 to seek government help for the industry.

The memory of that controversial trip has faded, observers say. And businesses are recognizing that private jets are sometimes necessary to drive profits, enabling employees to make multiple meetings in a day or travel in and out of markets with few commercial flights.

"It appears that people are getting back to doing business and out using their airplanes for the purpose which (they're) … meant to be used," Seno says. "For guys who have to go out and make it happen, the only way to do it is in a corporate airplane, where you can get in and make five stops in one day."

But like the stuttering economy, private flying has yet to hit full throttle.
"I think business aviation is looking like the broader economy," says Dan Hubbard, spokesman for the National Business Aviation Association. "You're seeing some indications that (give) you reason for cautious optimism, but (there's) a lot of mixed signals."

Many fliers are continuing to try to be as efficient as possible, experts say.
"They're still doing things intelligently," Seno says. "They put six people on an airplane and see 12 customers in two days. We hear those stories all the time."

"I think people were trained to economize in the recent economy, and habits are hard to break," Foley says. "I think it will be awhile before we get back to full use of business jets, but we're definitely moving in the right direction."