Guy Stockbridge runs multiple businesses from his headquarters in central California, including landscape companies that ripple across his home state and a utility solar business with operations in 17 states.
Flying is a way of life for Stockbridge and others at his company, Elite Team Offices, based in Clovis. For years they flew both privately and on commercial flights out of Fresno, roughly 10 miles from Clovis. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and private jet ownership became more and more attractive.
For the latest headlines, follow our Google News channel online or via the app.
“Buying a jet has been on my mind for years, but COVID definitely added to the equation!” Stockbridge told Reuters by email.
He is not alone.
A shift toward private flying that more wealthy Americans saw as a necessary luxury during COVID-19 is now showing signs of becoming something else: a pricey but sought-after alternative to a premium ticket on a commercial flight.
Many stayed for the convenience, with analysts and industry executives saying they see both more first-time jet owners and families and even small- and medium businesses flying private.
Airlines had an 80 percent share of premium travel in 2021, down from 90 percent before COVID-19, according to Alton Aviation
Business jets were often associated with entertainers and top executives. They now account for a quarter of US flights,
roughly twice the pre-pandemic share, according to research and consultancy WINGX.
And consultancy McKinsey & Company estimated that before the pandemic, only 10 percent of those with the means to travel privately did so.
Flying private covers a whole gamut of transport. For some, like Stockbridge, that means owning a private plane. Other services include operators of charter flights that sell either by the seat or the entire plane, as well as services that sell fractions or shares of jets.
It all comes at a cost.
Stockbridge took delivery this month of a Cessna Citation M2 Gen2, a light jet made by Textron, which he said can turn travel to his out-of-state businesses into a day trip. The plane, which seats up to seven, lists for $5.85 million.
Stockbridge was clear about the business benefits. “Our out of state work is driving the need for a private jet, distance, and time to getting to job is crucial.”
“Yes, we do still fly commercial but much less frequent... probably 10 percent commercial, and 90 percent jet/charter,” he said.
Charters and other private jet services may be cheaper than owning a plane, but they still carry gold-plated prices.
Booking a Gulfstream G280 with nine passenger seats for a one-way New York-to-Miami flight costs $18,100, according to
Jettly, a platform for charter bookings. That compares with an average cost for a single business-class, New York-to-Miami
ticket of $421, before taxes, according to data from airline analytics firm Cirium for January.
Even so, for many the price is not a deterrent.
“I think the people we’re seeing convert from commercial are not going back to commercial,” said Jamie Walker, chief executive of US-based Jet Linx, which manages planes and operates private flights through a “jet card” subscription-style program.
Jet Linx charges a $25,000 membership fee as well as per-flight fees, according to its website.
Subscription-based Wheels Up Experience said its service costs members $80,000 a year.
Jet Linx saw sales of jet cards jump 40 percent last year compared with 2019, Walker said.
Other operators are also seeing gains.
“We are still seeing new entrants continuing to come to the market,” said Megan Wolf, chief operating officer at Flexjet, a
global provider of fractionally owned jets.
Despite a small uptick in pre-owned business jet supply, the market remains robust, with companies like Jet Linx capping sales because they cannot meet demand.
The boom is benefiting planemakers like Textron, General Dynamics Corp’s Gulfstream, and Bombardier.
Textron reported quarterly earnings last week that topped estimates, signaling that an expected leveling-off in business jet demand has yet to occur.
“If anything demand has accelerated,” said Vertical Research Partners analyst Robert Stallard.
US private aviation traffic is up about 15 percent from its 2019 levels, while airline traffic remains down about 13 percent, according to data from flight-tracking website FlightAware.
Analysts do expect a rebound in commercial flights to eventually draw some wealthy travelers back to scheduled airlines. But there are signs that some of the shift to private jets could be permanent, especially on shorter-haul US flights.
Not only are major carriers pulling out of such routes because of pilot shortages, the flights are comparatively less expensive than using private jets for overseas trips.
The trend is not lost on the big airlines.
Delta Air Lines, the No 3. US airline by fleet size, has a 20 percent stake in Wheels Up.
Delta, like other US carriers, is seeing demand return. Its revenue from higher-yield premium cabins rose to 77 percent of the pre-pandemic level in the first quarter, up from 27 percent a year ago.
And Atlanta-based Delta sees stronger demand from higher-paying leisure travelers making up for an estimated 10 percent of business travel that might not return.
Ed Bastian, Delta’s chief executive, acknowledged the surge in private flying but said many of those passengers also fly commercial.
“I don’t think that it’s taken a lot of traffic off our plane -- some, yes,” Bastian said in an interview.
Some competitors in the private jet sphere see things differently.
Jettly saw requested flights more than triple from December 2019 to December 2021, with more than a quarter of demand
estimated to come from passengers who previously flew business-class, said Justin Crabbe, head of the Toronto-based
“Some of them are jumping to the airlines’ chagrin,” he said.
UAE private jet companies see bookings surge for day trips to Qatar’s FIFA World CupPrivate jet companies across the UAE are seeing a surge in bookings for day trips to Qatar for the FIFA World Cup as football fans turn to luxury ... Gulf
Private jet market recovers in Saudi Arabia, as demand for luxury travel risesA private jet operator in Saudi Arabia has said that it is witnessing booming demand for luxury travel from wealthy customers as privatized aviation ... Gulf
Airfares soar, private jets in demand as rich Indians flee COVID-19Airfares soared and demand for private jets boomed Friday as Indians who could afford it scrambled to escape a Covid surge before flights to the ... Coronavirus
Middle East private jet industry to benefit from infrastructure supportThe private jet industry in the Middle East will continue to be supported by infrastructure growth and a consistent market for both business and ... Economy