Consequences of the corona crisis for private flights

Hope for private flights

How do private flights come through the corona crisis? The opinion of some German private flights operators and the managing director of the German Business Aviation Association. Result: There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Commercial aviation plays a special role in the Corona crisis. The situation of aircraft operators and maintenance companies can only be compared to a limited extent with the situation of the airlines. Flashback: Until March, the industry saw a short-term increase in flight bookings, because apparently many passengers wanted to avoid the risk of being infected in a scheduled aircraft – a private flight with the business jet or the turboprop was a welcome alternative. Even when the first airlines had to leave their fleets on the ground, business aviation was still in use. From mid-March the travel restrictions and quarantine requirements then hit business aviation with full severity. For April the EBAA (European Business Aviation Association) reports in its “Traffic Tracker Europe” a drop in flight movements of 71 percent compared to the same period last year. For comparison: the drop in scheduled traffic was 90 percent. At the beginning of the crisis, many aircraft operators were still working on return flights and specialized companies continued to offer their services for medical flights, including the transportation of Covid 19 patients.

The mood was correspondingly negative when the GBAA (German Business Aviation Association) launched a survey among its members on April 3. Among other things, operators, maintenance companies and FBO operators were interviewed. “How do you currently assess the overall situation for your company to survive the corona crisis?” Asked the association, for example. 21 percent answered with “very bad”, 38 percent with “neutral” and only 13 percent with “good” or “very good”. 76 percent of the companies surveyed had already sent individual employees into short-time work, 18 percent had requested this for all employees. The same number (18 percent) had applied for liquidity aid.

The goal is “Return to normal operation”

And today? Andreas Mundsinger believes that the mood among GBAA members has at least brightened somewhat. “Everyone is hoping for a ‘return to normal operation’,” says the managing director of the interest group. By this he means a regulated flight and maintenance operation taking into account the legal hygiene regulations. “We will have to get used to mouthguards, disinfectants and prescribed routes” he predicts. Nevertheless, he sees a significant advantage of individual air traffic. Short distances and flexible structures make traveling in a business jet more efficient than before the crisis than with an airliner. In addition, according to Mundsinger, many airlines’ connections have been cut or thinned out. “Of course, this leads to discussions about charter prices, especially when the customer’s company is economically troubled. But arguments often help, such as the counter-calculation of the time savings on the flight price.” While airlines are only gradually beginning to operate, statistics based on Eurocontrol data show that the share of business aviation in all flight movements has increased since the beginning of the crisis, albeit at an overall low level.

Augsburg Air Service photo
Augsburg Air Service photo

Tangible advantages for business aviation

Incidentally, the low frequency of flights of all kinds has tangible advantages for business aviation. For normally heavily frequented airports such as Düsseldorf or Frankfurt, slots can now be obtained without any problems. The GBAA is also positive about the provisional keeping of Berlin-Tegel open. On behalf of its members, it is currently working to preserve Tegel as a city airport for commercial flights.

From the GBAA’s point of view, it was still too early to speak of a positive turn. “There are still concerns that there could be a sustained slump like in 2001 or 2008,” says Mundsinger. It makes sense now to wait for the effects of the end of many travel restrictions from June 15.

Voices of the companies

How do individual companies currently assess the situation of business aviation in German-speaking countries themselves? Here is a summary of their answers.

Augsburg Air Service

The maintenance specialist Augsburg Air Service initially faced the challenge of integrating the new hygiene and safety requirements into the operational process. “Overall, we were able to largely maintain operations in the usual form in compliance with the state recommendations, since we reacted promptly. There are more delays and bottlenecks in external processes, for example in the supply chains,” said Florian Kohlmann, Managing Director of Augsburg Air Service. As in many other companies, many office workers work in the home office, while the yard’s employees have to keep a minimum distance and wear protective equipment. There were financial losses, but they were kept within limits. “It was important for us that both the customers and our employees have the certainty at all times that we are there for them and that everything continues. We communicated this appropriately at an early stage,” said Kohlmann. Augsburg Air Service benefited from the request to customers to bring their aircraft to Augsburg before the lockdown in order to use the flight-free time for conversions and maintenance work. “Thanks to this foresight, short-time work was not an issue for us.” The forecast for 2020: “Our operating result will certainly be lower this year than in previous years. Nevertheless, we are confident that we will be able to master these times well thanks to our flexibility and planning.

FAI flies Covid-19 patients
FAI flies Covid-19 patients

Atlas Air Service (AAS)

At the Bremen partner company Atlas Air Service (AAS), CEO Nicolas von Mende refers to the pillars of trade, flight operations, value operations and materials testing. This broad position would have proven to be an advantage in the crisis, as it would make it easier to compensate for losses. “We lost 90 percent of our revenue in flight operations,” says von Mende, referring to the fleet of ten business jets. In the second week of March, demand “broke down brutally”. But then many return flights followed. “We also won new customers.” Atlas Air Service has registered short-time work for the pilots and parts of the OPS crew. Around 30 customer aircraft were parked on the company premises, so that some owners also used the downtime for maintenance orders, which benefited the yard operation. Despite the production stop at Airbus, only normal fluctuations can be observed in the field of materials testing. Von Mende sees trade in used aircraft as split. “The market has become temporarily rigid,” says the CEO. While many buyers expect prices to fall, sellers are more optimistic. The outlook is cautiously confident: the abolition of scheduled flights will make business aviation more attractive on the one hand, and on the other hand, the company boss expects the negative effects of the pandemic to outweigh the next year. For 2020, Bremen expect at least a “satisfactory result”.

Air Hamburg

At Air Hamburg,the corona crisis has led to “significant sales losses” since the end of March. “There are still many customers who want to fly, but the bulk of the flights were hardly possible due to the isolation of almost all countries in April and May,” said the operator of 33 business jets. To meet the reduced demand, the company had to temporarily reduce its resources by more than 50 percent; the Hamburg team used short-time work for the flight and ground crews.

The Nuremberg company FAI

The Nuremberg company FAI rent-a-jet has reported a 70 percent decline in charter business since April. Ambulance flights had a record high of 800 flight hours almost around the world in April, followed by a 40 percent drop in May. In order to compensate for the losses, the available labor was reduced by one third through June inclusive. The company does not dare to make a clear forecast at the moment: “We do not know when travel traffic will resume completely, but we expect the most important summer destinations such as France and Spain to not be served for weeks, probably not before July. The other problem is that lower demand from our customers.