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ARGUS Analysis: Business aviation’s record-setting demand looks to continue in 2022

Photo Credit: The Dassault Falcon display at the 2021 NBAA-BACE Convention.As we approach the 2021 holiday season, it is hard to believe that another year has flown by. It's even harder to believe that the word COVID has been a part of our everyday vocabulary for almost two years now. If someone had told us just two years ago how much the world would change, I do not think many people would have believed it. I know I wouldn't have. Whether we like it or not, change arrived in many ways. Depending on perspective, that change brought about some good and some not so good. Some industries have seen both good and bad changes, but one in particular stands out: Business Aviation. Our industry changed dramatically on March 15, 2020. Since that day, it has never been the same. Many in the North American business aviation industry will remember when the virus arrived as we saw an unprecedented activity drop in April 2020, with just 74,771 flights recorded that month. For an industry that averaged 260,000 flights per month in 2019, that equated to a 71% drop. During those dark days in April, we faced many questions: How long will this environment last? Will we ever fly internationally again? How many flight departments and companies will close their doors? All of these were legitimate questions at the time, but as we look back over the last 20 months and into arguably one of the lowest points of our industry, it is safe to say no one could have predicted what would happen next. In the months immediately following April, we watched as business aviation gained back two-thirds of its pandemic-related losses in just two months. By July 2020, the industry was back over 200,000 movements a month, far below its 2019 average but well above April 2020. It was during these initial months that the true value of business aviation began to shine through. In the early days of the pandemic, all travel was viewed the same way: It was thought of as a means to help spread the virus. However, as testing became more widespread and overall knowledge of the virus grew we learned that business aviation was a very safe and reliable alternative in a social-distancing environment. Throughout the remainder of 2020, the business aviation recovery looked like a square root plotted on a chart. We saw a significant boost in May and June, and then consistent straight-line activity from July through December. In fact, activity stayed around 200,000 movements a month from June 2020 through February 2021. Then March 2021 arrived. How business aviation bounced back from COVIDJust as we will always remember March 2020 as the month our industry changed dramatically for the worse, we will remember March 2021 as the month it fully recovered. March 2021 was the first month to record more flights than the same month in 2019, but it wouldn't be the last. In a month notorious for spring break travel, and with more states easing restrictions and a new vaccine available, we saw business aviation take to the skies. While the month only recorded 33 more flights than March 2019, it reported over 260,000 flights, which was far above the 206,000 recorded just one month prior. Since then, many different business aviation activity records have been broken. The busiest month on record, October 2021 (note: ARGUS maintains data back to January 2007). The single busiest day on record, Nov. 28, with more than 13,000 business aviation flights. Months with more than 100,000 Part 135 flights: Nine straight from March through November, and the forecast doesn't show that changing anytime soon. Business aviation forecast for 2022We see all tailwinds in terms of activity as we look forward, but the industry is certain to face growing pains. We went from an industry that saw traffic drop over 70% in April 2020, to an industry that is consistently up 15%-20% from 2019, and we still have some Part 91 activity sidelined due to corporate travel restrictions. While great from a numbers perspective, we will face challenges going forward. Part 135 and fractional operators are trying to find new jets to meet the surging demand, but that will grow the challenge of finding qualified crews and technicians to support those aircraft. Then corporate aviation overall will still be dealing with the retirements in the airline world which will draw some people from corporate to commercial aviation. These challenges are real but they will be manageable and, for an industry that is forecast to grow 10% in 2022, they will certainly be welcome challenges given where we were just 20 months ago.
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