By John Basileo, Aircraft Specialist
October 22, 2020Posted InInvestment Finance
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Flying privately has obvious appeal during a pandemic. But we see the longer-term benefits as compelling.
What might the future of air travel look like?
Not surprisingly, perhaps, it’s a question that we hear quite a lot right now.
After all, airports, airlines and the firms that serve them have been among the hardest hit by pandemic lockdown restrictions.
Indeed, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said that 2020 will go down as the worst ever year financially in the history of aviation, with potential industry losses of $84.3bn.
There are widespread fears that society will not return quickly to its pre-COVID travel patterns – and perhaps never will.
Despite the shock of the pandemic, however, we believe that the desire – and the need – to fly will remain strong.
Air travel is a fundamental part of life, which is embedded within our mindset.
(Some Singaporeans missed the experience of flying so much this year that they famously paid to take meals and watch movies on grounded planes!)
Importantly, we observe that many of those who have had the most freedom to travel during the pandemic have frequently chosen to do so.
Demand for executive air travel – flying privately – has held up much better than for commercial flights.
Lockdown and quarantine measures permitting, owners of such aircraft have typically sought to make use of them.
In part, we believe this reflects the limitations of the alternatives, particularly for business owners and corporate leaders.
During the pandemic, video calls have enabled many companies to hold meetings with colleagues, clients and suppliers the world over.
But while such technology has clearly been helpful, it is far from a perfect substitute.
When doing business across different geographies, there are many occasions when you simply can’t beat being there.
Touring facilities, understanding how key employees are thinking, and striking up new business relationships are not always practical or even possible when operating remotely.
Besides a revival in business travel, we also expect the increased appeal of executive aircraft to endure after COVID-19.
Amid the present health crisis, there are clear attractions to traveling by one’s own private aircraft.
Avoiding large airports, clearing security privately, being assured of the onboard cleaning routines, and traveling with few fellow passengers and crew all help to increase individual safety.
Such measures will likely become lesser priorities – at least from the perspective of health – as memories of the pandemic fade over time.
Nevertheless, we believe the fundamental appeal of flying by executive aircraft may increase.
Efficiency is the main reason here.
Business travel – while vital – can be very time-consuming.
Hours spent in airport lounges, first-class cabins and in transit from airports represent time that could be better spent doing business or relaxing with loved ones.
By contrast, the time saved from flying privately can be substantial.
In our estimation, commercial airlines only serve between 5% and 10% of the world’s airports.
The rest are only accessible by private aircraft.
Particularly for entrepreneurs and executives with operations in less mainstream places, a private aircraft enables highly efficient point-to-point flying.
Take this example from the US.
Traveling from New York City to Bartlesville, a small oil town in Oklahoma, by commercial airlines would typically involve a 12-hour round trip, allowing for layovers and car transfers.
With a direct flight on a private aircraft, however, the same round trip could take just five hours.
The potential efficiency gains don’t end there.
Private aircraft can provide a more suitable working environment than the most spacious of first-class commercial cabins.
Certain models can accommodate a conference area, in which colleagues can sit around a table and collaborate over vital tasks.
As well as overall time saved and increased productivity while in transit, flying privately can enhance security and confidentiality.
Personally knowing your pilots and crew and the maintenance record of your own aircraft helps provide peace of mind.
Steering clear of large airports and crowded cabins is obviously a more discreet way of traveling, whether on a business trip or for a family vacation.
The potential benefits of owning an executive aircraft are therefore clear.
Nevertheless, demand for aircraft purchases has been under pressure for some years.
Prices of executive aircraft both new and used have trended persistently lower since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2007-09.
Aggressive discounting by some prominent manufacturers is largely responsible for this.
While there were fleeting signs of price falls leveling off in 2018, this proved to be a false dawn.
As manufactures continued to introduce newer, more technologically advanced aircraft, production of the older models they were designed to replace was halted.
As a result, prices on the remaining aircraft were slashed, inducing a “trickle-down” effect in that model’s pre-owned market.
One result of this multi-year downtrend is therefore competitive prices for executive aircraft.
The risk, naturally, is that prices continue to descend.
Our view is that, sooner or later, a leveling off must surely occur.
Notably, we do not see the same large increases in unsold used aircraft inventory that we did after the GFC.
This supply dynamic gives us some cause for optimism about the future of pricing.
As we contemplate the revival of travel after the COVID-19 pandemic, the case for flying privately looks even more compelling.