The pandemic is changing the popularity of private jet travel

On JSX’s recent first flight from Dallas to Austin, a traveler hoped the flight was part of their weekly commute. Another group of passengers were visiting the state capital for an anniversary trip to stay with friends.

On the way back to Dallas, several groups came to watch the Monday Night Football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Even with 35 commercial flights a day between Austin and North Texas’ two commercial airports – DFW International Airport and Dallas Love Field – everyone on the 30-seat plane decided to skip the traditional airline experience. , skip the security lines, skip the parking lot and avoid the recommended early arrival time of two hours.

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JSX private jet service speeds up Dallas-Austin and Houston flights

Dallas-based private jet service JSX begins flight from Dallas Love Field to Austin and expands service to Houston, hoping business travelers pay the premium to skip airport terminals. JSX will begin flying to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on September 27, connecting to Dallas Love Field twice a day on its 30-seat jets. JSX will also double its service from Dallas Love Field to Houston Hobby Airport.

At Signature Flight Services, the private terminal JSX uses while it builds its own at Dallas Love Field, customers can show up 30 minutes early and walk directly on the jet sitting on the taxiway outside.

“People have had a taste for luxury flying during the pandemic and they don’t want to go back,” said Alex Wilcox, a former JetBlue executive who is now CEO of Dallas-based JSX, which operates flights from. 30 places in Texas and the California area. “It really is convenience because no one wants the hassle of the airport.”

While commercial aviation still suffers from the COVID-19 slowdown, the world of private and charter flights has never been so hot.

July was the busiest month in modern history for the business aviation category, a mix of business flights, private jets and charter services, data company data shows on Argus International business aviation. There were 302,317 take-offs and landings among private business aviation operators in July, up from 2019, which was a banner year for the industry.

At Dallas Love Field, private jet and charter traffic for the first nine months of 2021 was 16.5% higher than in 2019.

A JSX jet flies over Bachman Lake as it prepares to land at Dallas Love Field.
A JSX jet flies over Bachman Lake as it prepares to land at Dallas Love Field.(Elias Valverde II / Personal photographer)

The private aviation industry has rebounded so quickly from the COVID-19 slowdown that there is a dearth of planes to buy around the world. NetJets and other major players in the fractional private jet sales space have halted sales because demand is too high.

What’s even more surprising, said Travis Kuhn, vice president of market intelligence at Argus, is that the boom in the business aviation industry comes amid a significant downturn. corporate thefts.

“A lot of companies were linking the return to power to Labor Day, but with the Delta variant, it now looks like 2022 at the earliest,” Kuhn said.

The world of private aviation was supported last summer by a wealthy class of enthusiastic travelers who had stayed home for months and decided to hire private jets and turboprop planes to vacation in destinations around the world. outdoors and beaches. But there was also a flood of commercial traffic in these areas.

Overall, business aviation traffic was still on the decline in 2020, although business and commercial travel saw a significant rebound in early 2021.

The recovery of commercial air transport has not been smooth. Airlines worked hard in 2020 to show that sitting near other passengers did not pose an increased risk of catching COVID-19. And this summer, airlines experienced weather delays and a record number of unruly passenger complaints that at times forced planes to turn back onto taxiways and disembark.

Meanwhile, a booming stock market and the stability of well-paying white-collar jobs have resulted in tremendous growth in upper-class wealth.

“This record gain in wealth in the stock market has pushed more people into private planes,” Kuhn said. “And once you see people rise up, you won’t see them come down.”

Dallas is generally the nation’s second or third largest market for business aviation, behind Teterboro Airport just outside New York and comparable to Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles. Dallas has maintained its position as one of the major business aviation markets as traffic soared, according to data from Argus.

But by all accounts, 2020 has been just as difficult a year for private flight operators as it has been for the rest of the aviation industry. Traffic has dropped by 20-30%, driven by a massive shutdown of corporate flights. But private and business aviation came back aggressively in the early spring of this year, just as COVID-19 vaccines began to be distributed to a large group of Americans and falling infection rates took hold. leads more parts of the country to start reopening.

JSX, formerly JetSuite, moved its headquarters from California to Dallas in 2018. In 2020, it launched a hybrid model.

He removed seats from a jet normally intended for 65 passengers to accommodate only 30. Carrying 30 passengers also pushes him against the limits set by the FAA of selling tickets on scheduled flights without being a fully-fledged commercial airline like Southwest Airlines, which is also based in Dallas.

JSX now flies direct from Dallas to Houston, Las Vegas and Austin, as well as a few charter flights to private resorts and golf courses. It also flies to a dozen locations in Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada.

The one-way trip between Dallas and Austin starts at $ 129 during its initial promotional period, and flights for the following months between Dallas and Austin and Houston sell for $ 269. American Airlines flights to any of these destinations cost as little as $ 49 for the main cabin or about $ 250 for first class.

On the JSX Embraer 165 and 175 aircraft, passengers never have to sit next to another person.

Wilcox, who started his career at Southwest Airlines as an intern in the communications department, said it provided an experience comparable to that of first class on a commercial flight.

“People value their time and convenience a lot more than before,” Wilcox said. “No one wants to spend all day at an airport in security lines and wait for a plane.”

The interior of a JSX jet at the Signature Flight Support at Dallas Love Field.
The interior of a JSX jet at the Signature Flight Support at Dallas Love Field.(Elias Valverde II / Personal photographer)

The company is renovating an old Gulfstream hangar at Dallas Love Field to give JSX its own permanent terminal with a hangar for its jets and a maintenance area, he said.

Other airports in the region have also seen an increase in private flights.

At McKinney National Airport, one of North Texas’ busiest airports that does not carry significant commercial or cargo traffic, jet fuel sales have exceeded 2019 levels in three of the past four months. , said airport manager Kenneth Carly.

“I have a feeling you are starting to see a certain segment that was high volume business class or first class users moving on to charter,” Carly said. “It started out with the pandemic, but now they’re sticking to it.”

At the Dallas-based Business Jet Center, which also has a base at Love Field, the largest increase has been in personal and leisure flights.

But this new demand is straining the industry.

“Charter demand is almost outstripping the supply of chartered aircraft,” said Cat Wren, Customer Experience Manager for the Business Jet Center. “Customers book months in advance, unlike the more traditional one or two week deadline. “

Operators have reported problems finding pilots, maintainers and other professionals needed to maintain private and charter operations in flight. Major airlines have been experiencing the same issues in recent months and Fort Worth-based Southwest Airlines and American are set to hire thousands of employees this year.

“There’s just been this explosion of private flights and it’s just not going to go back to what it was before the pandemic,” said Janine Iannarelli, Houston aviation consultant with Par Avion. “Why would you want to go back in time when you have to deal with everything that happens at the airport and in the airlines these days? “

An American Airlines pilot walked past airport contractor David Ramirez wiping check-in kiosks with disinfectant at DFW International Airport Terminal A in 2020.
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