With airlines in many parts of the world brought to their knees by COVID-19, something that will play out for years to come, business aviation is still a relatively underutilized means of travel which could have its biggest opportunity ever. Forget images of wealthy individuals and their families — most business aircraft are used for just that, business, and the point-to-point capability offers immense capability in terms of time saving and efficiency. Meanwhile, in these times of social distancing and paranoia over a dangerous, prevalent virus, these aircraft offer the ability to remain safe with a handful of trusted business colleagues and/or family. Yet many aircraft are still underutilized. Activity has picked up faster than with airlines, as they and the airports grapple with making travel safe again, but as the world’s economy starts to motor again you would expect a huge increase in demand — even if it only peaks for a year or so while scheduled air transport acclimatizes. However, based on what the medical world is saying the effects of the virus will be with us until an effective vaccine becomes widely available, so this could be well into 2021. So this presents a window of opportunity for us to communicate to a wider audience that is looking for ideas that business aircraft — in all shapes and sizes from Pilatus PC-12s to Global 7500s and Boeing BBJs — can offer a solution. Furthermore, they are available not only to buy, but are widely available to charter, or to own “fractionally”.
Whether we can depend on the wider media community to take a mature view on this remains to be seen. Many media outlets in the past have preferred to focus on any negative stories relating to private aircraft and their owners, and their attention span seems too short to listen to the long-running “No Plane, No Gain” mantra from the leading business aviation advocacy association, the U.S. National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). Through the Coronavirus crisis it has been all too evident that the aviation world has struggled to have its voice heard. Widespread business failures in aviation could have a devastating effect on the world’s economy and it has been surprising how little this has been heeded by governments. We can only wait and see how many airlines will fail, hope that business aviation companies can survive, and everyone can try to put out positive messages about how aviation is an essential part of our economic infrastructure. This also comes against the tide of environmental concerns which quite rightly point to the biggest challenge of all, climate change. While aviation has made extraordinary technological progress since WWII in making aircraft more efficient, accelerating this when climate change appeared to be an increasingly urgent issue, there has to be more focus on “more electric” aircraft and “sustainable” production of fuels. It will be several decades before we can hope for an alternative to the gas turbine so sustainable biofuels come first, and for smaller aircraft there are already alternatives to turboprop engines — as shown by the recent first flight of a Cessna Caravan with a MagniX electric engine. And at the bottom end the little two-seat Pipistrel Velis Electro recently became the first fully certificated electric light training aircraft, thanks to the efforts of the European Aviation Safety Agency. The list of initiatives goes on and includes hydrogen fuel cell engines being tested that could retrofit hundreds of aircraft as hydrogen production picks up around the world. With larger aircraft there must be more adoption of sustainable fuels. This is simply and undeniably the biggest impediment to industry growth. And as we’ve heard earlier, this could prove to be a vital industry for accelerating the world’s economic recovery — so it is in everyone’s interest to support it and understand that it can oil the cogs of the world economy in a sustainable way. Written by Ian Shepperd, Head of Aviation, WOI.