The COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as a time of trials and tribulations for industries around the world. While many industries struggled, others rose to the occasion, providing essential services required in a time of need. The private aviation industry was able to provide safe transportation in a time where commercial airlines had to close down, or greatly reduce capacity in order to reduce the spread of the pandemic.
Speaking with the Canadian Business Aviation Association, Anthony Norejko, president and CEO explains what happened at the initial onset of the pandemic lockdowns, and how the private aviation industry responded. “The business and private aviation sector were on the forefront of protecting Canadians in the early days of COVID by: repatriating Canadians from every part of the globe, including regions that had little to no scheduled service; delivering PPE and medical personnel and supplies to small and remote locations, a role that continues to this day; delivering other essential cargo; and continuing to support Canadian businesses with safe and healthy point-to-point access to support customers, maintain essential services and connect businesses and communities.”
Initial responses were strong across the industry. At Aurora Jet Partners, providers of aircraft management, charter services and aircraft brokerage, Jeff Kufeldt, vice president of sales, talks us through their response to the pandemic.
“Initially in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic hit full force around the world, we had a significant spike in flying activity. Our primary job was getting our jet owners and their families/employees back into Canada as international borders were closing and airlines started to cancel flights.”
Kufeldt continues, “The charter business was also very busy during this time. We had dozens of calls every week from people trying to arrange flights to get back home from all parts of the world. This continued into late spring as many snow birds who had decided to stay away from airports all together were finally ready to come home. Throughout the summer and fall of 2020 our international flying was understandably slower than a typical year and many of our clients were choosing instead to travel with us domestically. International flying did pick up over the colder months with many clients hiring us to take them to Hawaii and the usual sun destinations in the south.”
Sales of private aircraft, while slow to begin with at the start of the pandemic, picked up quickly, resulting in low inventories for many companies. President of Prairie Aircraft Sales Ltd., Kathy Wrobel breaks down events early last year.
“When the pandemic first shut everything down, I was in the middle of my trade shows and in attendance at the Edmonton Boat and Sportsman Show. We all went into lockdown and things were pretty quiet for a couple of weeks but started to pick up right away. I ended up selling over 40 aircraft last year ranging from small singles to a Citation 680 and everything in between. Then 2021 started out the same with things being very busy and inventory being low.“
Wrobel further illustrates why people turned to private aviation. “With the airlines shutting down or reducing flights, the availability not only went away, but the flights that were available were very expensive. Where you used to be able to hop on a WestJet flight for a few hundred dollars, that same flight was suddenly $800+. It was cheaper to fly your own aircraft and that is what folks decided to do. It is safer, more convenient, and all round a better choice. The skies are not as crowded, and airports are quiet. It’s a great time to learn to fly and explore. Aviation has remained one of the few activities that will provide you freedom, and who doesn’t love to fly?”
Kufeldt also gives a summary of how their jet brokerage business has been positively affected, saying, “During this time our jet brokerage business had its busiest year ever. Even now going into the summer of 2021 we are in the process of acquiring three jets for clients and we expect this to continue as more companies and individuals want unfettered access to their own aircraft while completely avoiding crowded airports and security lineups.”
Norejko of the CBAA sheds further light on why charters and sales increased during the pandemic. “We believe that restrictions in commercial service plus the added layers of health and safety at fixed-base operators (FBOs) have both contributed to an increase in the sale and charter of private aircraft. While airports have worked very hard to keep their terminals clean and workers and passengers safe, FBOs have an added advantage of fewer people congregating, an easier-to-monitor environment, and the fact that all passengers are known to flight managers. Along with the ability of private aircraft to fly when and where is needed on demand, business aviation has become a real alternative to commercial aviation for an additional number of people.”
The CBAA provides essential services and advocates for business and the private aviation industry. Norejko gives us some information about business aviation in Canada. “In 2017, business aviation generated $12.1 billion in economic output, $5.8 billion in GDP, and contributed $3.5 billion in wages to 47,100 jobs, 23,000 of which were directly attributed to business aviation.”
Explaining the role of the CBAA, Norejko says, “Our major task is to educate government and business leaders on the importance of business aviation to our economy and social wellbeing. Our three key points are that business aviation is: a critical asset that creates economic opportunity and jobs throughout Canada, a world leader in the creation and adoption of technologies that reduce our environmental footprint and a corporate advantage that connects Canadian entrepreneurs and corporations to remote locations.”
When asked about prospects in the future, Wrobel at Prairie Aircraft Sales has a positive outlook. “With inventories being low, we have been working with our buyers on acquisitions and purchase assists in bringing aircraft into Canada when required. There are a number of logistics involved and may be overwhelming to those who do not know the process. With the contacts and relationships we have made over the last 30 years we work hard to make these transactions seamless for our clients. We look forward to a very busy rest of 2021!”
Kufeldt describes the services that Aurora Jet Partners offers to clients. “Aurora Jet Partners offers a complete turnkey solution for new jet owners. We look after everything for the client including the acquisition of the jet, hiring and training the pilots, the ongoing maintenance and safety management, the flight logistics, regulatory requirements and accounting. We currently have jets based in Vancouver, Kelowna, Edmonton and Toronto.”
Although the pandemic has not ended yet, vaccinations have been rolling out for a few months and the end is in sight. The private aviation industry will continue to provide essential services to individuals and businesses in our time of need, from travel, to the delivery of much needed PPE and other essential cargo. Sales and chartering are not expected to slow down anytime soon, and businesses looking to secure safer, more economical and convenient travel options have many companies available and ready for their business.