Private jet market grows amid industry challenges

Any shifts from commercial to private flights will be less impactful in the region as corporates may be cutting costs of flying private


MORE people are choosing to fly on private jets as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic rather than using commercial flights, but business prospects in this emerging-market segment remain challenging.

Asian Sky Group MD Jeffrey Lowe said more customers have turned to private jets due to fewer restrictions in place compared to commercial flights.

“The number of users which would have flown commercially and are now flying privately is negligible in commercial terms, but could be significant in business aviation (BizAv) terms. The reasons are obvious, but in Malaysia, it is even more so since (from what we understand) if you fly in or out privately, there are less restrictions,” Lowe told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

He said the Malaysian market has been generally active, but there was no impact seen from the easing of the Movement Control Order (MCO) on BizAv.

“It still seems quite challenging. Current users are flying, but not much ‘new’ demand,” he added.

BizAv flights (departures and arrivals) in Malaysia declined 94% year-on-year from 2,156 to 131 flights from April to July, based on the automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast technology and air traffic control. However, Lowe said actual flights might be higher than that.

The MCO, which started on March 18, banned foreigners from entering the country while prohibiting locals from leaving. Under the Recovery MCO period starting June 10, most economic activities have resumed upon the easing of the restrictions.

Lowe said the travel ban had an obvious impact on Malaysia’s BizAv traffic, which declined tremendously since April.

Departure flights dropped from 54 in April (April 2019: 294) to four in May (May 2019: 254), one in June (June 2019: 249) and two in July (July 2019: 262) for a total of 61 flights in the four-month time period compared to 1,059 previously.

Inbound flights decreased from 62 in April (April 2019: 301) to five in May (May 2019: 261), two in June (June 2019: 257) and one in July (July 2019 : 278), totalling 70 flights versus 1,097 in the same period last year.

April’s traffic, Lowe said, was mostly made up of domestic flights, which later ceased operation. Other flights included from Malaysia to Indonesia, Cambodia, Australia and a few other destinations.

In a recent panel discussion, VistaJet International Ltd chief commercial officer Ian Moore said the company sees a lot more one-way flying these days where people are going to their second home or getting back to their first home. Moore said VistaJet posted about a 10% rise in new customers for the first half of the year despite the challenging business conditions.

“It is a matter of adapting, having a fleet that you can manoeuvre at different locations and a work ethos. I always said the industry has always been the first into recession and the last out. I think this is the first time the industry (is) probably the last in and potentially first out. It is our opportunity to shine,” he said in the discussion.

With over 70 Challenger and Global jets, VistaJet offers its members access to the largest privately-owned Bombardier fleet in the world with tailored flight-hour subscription plans and monthly lease offering that challenge the idea of aircraft ownership.

Any shifts from commercial to private flights will be less impactful in the region as corporates may be cutting costs of flying private, according to aggregated feedback from local members of the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA) to TMR.

According to the feedback, a commercial flight ticket to Singapore can be bought for RM500, while a small private jet will cost RM8,000 to RM10,000.

AsBAA members said while there are frequent reports globally about private jets being used for “humanitarian cargo flights”, the jets based in Malaysia are not so convertible to cargo operations due to their configurations.

Malaysia aspires to be a regional BizAv hub via Subang Airport, competing against other terminals in neighbouring countries including Seletar Airport in Singapore, Halim Perdanakusuma International Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia, and the Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. Apart from being a BizAv hub, Subang Airport — also known as the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport or Subang Skypark — is currently the country’s turboprop aircraft hub.

The area is also the maintenance, repair and overhaul hub for several companies, including Hawker Pacific (M) Sdn Bhd and ExecuJet Malaysia Sdn Bhd.