If there’s been an upside to the last 27 months, it’s that COVID concerns and a drastic reduction of commercial flights shined a spotlight on the unparalleled benefits of corporate aviation. New corporate jet users flooded the marketplace looking for safety, security, flexibility, and productivity.
But for the first time, demand vastly outpaces available aircraft, creating a new set of challenges. Charter and jet card users are being told, “Nothing is available.”
Lack of availability also has triggered an industrywide revamp of card and charter programs. Some traditional card companies suspended new card sales. Some have dramatically increased prices, and some have changed terms, including booking windows and blackout dates. Not one program remains unchanged.
Many corporate jet users have looked to ownership to mitigate these challenges – only to be met with more. Historically low inventories and rapidly escalating prices are prolonging acquisition timelines and creating seller-centric transaction terms, adding risk and frustrating buyers.
Buyers now are navigating the least predictable aircraft operating environment in history, informed by significant crew shortage and salary escalation, limited training slot availability, supply chain parts delays, shallow maintenance labor pools, and war-time fuel costs. The likelihood of a timely recovery has all but evaporated.
As a result, there are more “Angry Birds” (corporate jet users) than ever before.
Commercial airline service also is not immune to the same operational challenges. For many, the airlines may not be an acceptable solution. Since conditions of the industry are not likely to change significantly in the near future, you have two options: either remain frustrated or recalibrate and develop a plan to manage your air travel needs.
These three steps can help:
Understand your current and future travel requirements – Discuss with your flight department leader or management company the details of your aircraft and flight department profile. Is your aircraft new or older? It is a small or a large cabin? Do you have a crew of two or three? Are you in a metropolitan or rural area?
For instance, a new aircraft is likely to be on a maintenance program, so the supply chain challenges are the program vendor’s issues to manage. If you have a small-cabin aircraft or two-person crew, you are more likely to experience higher turnover, as pilots look to upgrade aircraft for better pay and/or a more predictable schedule. If you are based or go “aircraft on ground” (AOG, meaning unable to fly) in a rural area, maintenance may take longer to get to you. While you may or may not be able to change the outcome, you can align your expectations with reality.
Create a “Plan B” for trip disruptions – Explore collaborations with a local like-type aircraft and create an inventory pool of high-failure/consumable parts (wheels, brakes, bulbs, etc.). Establish a relationship with a contract crew service so you can keep flying in case of crew turnover. If you have an independent flight operation, develop a relationship with a management company or charter procurement service with scope and depth to reduce cost and provide backup service if/when you need it.
Consider purchasing a jet card for backup – This will enable you to maintain your travel schedule when your plane is down longer than expected. Or, if you are a current jet card user, purchase two cards from different companies, one of which may be at a premium, but guarantees you a plane on shorter notice (and use that only when necessary).
Business aviation helps you travel safely despite current health concerns. Planning for potential disruptions as others enter the market will enable you to keep flying safely and avoid becoming another “Angry Bird.” BAA
Andy Priester is President/CEO of Priester Aviation. With more than 20 years in aviation, he has held many leadership roles in aviation safety associations, and is past Chairman of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA).