Private Jets Had a Stellar 2020—And They're Only Getting More Popular

In a dark year for travel, the private aviation industry was a bright spot

Private Jet on runway against clear sky
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The last 10 months have been pretty much all bad news, all the time, especially in the travel sector. But there’s been one shining beacon of hope throughout the year—private aviation. The private jet industry had its strongest year yet, thanks greatly in part to the collapse of commercial aviation, and it’s poised to see continued growth in the near future, too.

Private aviation's success isn’t altogether surprising: naturally, when a contagious virus is on the loose, flying private has some obvious advantages over flying commercial. “The word ‘private’ in ‘private aviation’ has never meant more than during the pandemic,” said Rajat Khurana, the chief commercial officer of private jet company XO. “Consider the number of touchpoints involved in flying commercial—over 700, from the terminal to inflight, versus a mere 20 for private.”

Then there’s the fact that you’re only sharing a cabin with members of your own party, versus hundreds of strangers. And even though it’s been proven that virus transmission is highly unlikely on an airplane, so long as everyone wears a mask, the public’s perception of flying commercial remained pretty grim throughout 2020.

Personal space preferences aside, private aviation also became a practical—and sometimes even a necessary choice. “As the [COVID-19] pandemic started, we became a lifeline to those stranded away from home and facing commercial flight cancellations,” said Oliver Smith-Aichbichler, the founder and CEO of Austrian private jet company AlbaJet Charter. “Many of our bookings were from first-time private jet users, who perhaps would otherwise have flown business or first class, and needed a reliable and safe alternative to get home.”

Similarly, with commercial airlines reducing or altogether halting their flights to smaller cities, private aviation has stepped up to fill the gap. 

It’s not altogether surprising, then, that private jet companies saw extreme growth in business throughout 2020. XO, for instance, told TripSavvy they saw a 591 percent growth in membership from 2019 to 2020. And many of these new members are new to private aviation, indicating that this surge could be long-lasting.

“Although currently only around 10 percent of people who can afford to fly private do, 71 percent of our new incoming requests at VistaJet are from passengers who have not regularly used business aviation solutions before, which confirms an abundance of new entry into the market,” explained Ian Moore, the chief commercial officer of VistaJet.

While sleek business-class offerings probably aren't going anywhere anytime soon, seeing more private jets in the sky is likely a permanent shift.

“Just like commercial real estate is changed forever, people will not be going back to work in the same way, and commercial aviation is changed forever,” says Khurana. “People will seek the safety, security, and convenience of private aviation as part of a complete rethinking of the business life.”

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