Since the outbreak in China's Wuhan, COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has cropped up in 170 countries/territories and with 8,127 new cases globally today so far, things do not look to be improving any time soon. (www.worldometers.info/coronavirus)
However, despite the gloomy outlook there are some rays of hope on the horizon of a hard-hit industry.
Despite commercial airlines cancelling flights and grounding their fleets, private aviation is seeing an increase in demand as people look to bypass crowded airports. Private aviation is also helping people desperate to get home due to the various country lock downs, without them having to fly with hundreds of people in commercial cabins.
People who are immuno-compromised or in high risk categories are looking for alternative ways to travel and private aviation seems to be filling the gap.
'We're seeing many inquiries from customers who have experienced airline cancellations or who don't want to fly on airlines, due to concerns about exposure to the coronavirus - as obviously commercial airline travel puts people in much closer proximity to others, and involves moving through more crowded spaces at airports,' Adam Twidell, CEO of PrivateFly
So why the increase?
Private aviation is more agile in times of crisis. Smaller aircraft are usually first responders into disaster areas or medical flights, due to their ability to land on smaller runways and thus can fly in and out of lock down zones from private aviation terminals, not mass transport hubs.
People are seeking solace in the fact that by flying private they are not going to be near others and are happy to pay a premium to use private aviation versus commercial aviation, to decrease the risk of contracting the virus.
There is also the thought that private jet companies likely spend longer cleaning their aircraft than commercial operators due to their normal clientele of government officials, entertainers, sports teams and corporate executives.
Is it safer?
Private aircraft still operate within the same framework, rules and regulations as commercial aeroplanes.
Flying into a lock down zone involves a safety assessment and submitting a flight plan to airport authorities, who will send it to health authorities, who pass on a list of requirements.Air crew are given a full briefing on the route they're flying, the level of risk and the government stance on the destination.
Operators have introduced a number of strict measures in response to the current coronavirus crisis including equipping aircraft with healthcare and sanitary equipment kits for passengers and crew, 'should they be required' and closely monitoring the health of crew members including temperature checks before every flight.
What’s the Outlook?
Many operators are seeing demand increase from anywhere between 100% to 300% in charter requests, depending on the region worldwide.
'In short, we are booming,' Jettly CEO Justin Crabbe told Business Insider. 'I've never seen so much activity in our evacuation flight department. 'We have seen dozens of bookings that are two to three times the regular rate for the flight due to the increased demand and the shortage of available aircraft and crews in the area.
Another private jet-providing company said it had to triple its flight support staff due to the high demand for charter planes.
Which is great news in these troubled times and in an industry that is crippled by the current fight against this disease but is it short term gain, long term pain?
Maybe not, a long-term benefit could be that individuals who've opted for private jet travel during the crisis will be hooked and continue to charter jets in the future as they get used to the convenience and comfort of private travel.
There is no doubt that whilst there are additional requests, other clients are changing or cancelling their travel plans. Along with the operational logistics of flying in or out of affected areas being highly complex, with availability of aircraft and crews making it more challenging to fulfil requests in some areas the current trading conditions are challenging.
However, there is still a requirement by some businesses and individuals to travel and private aviation is seeing and will have, continued growth for customers preferring to fly private over commercial options.