The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences for many industries globally. For many of the businesses, it has been an uphill task recovering from the downturn in business occasioned by the pandemic.
The aviation industry was not left out of this conundrum as the lockdown and fears of passengers sitting in proximity with one another nearly affected the industry. The industry is now recovering albeit gradually.
Data provided by an American technology company that provides real-time, historical, and predictive flight tracking data and products, FlightAware, showed that all types of air travel were initially devastated by worldwide COVID-19 lockdowns. In 2020, global flights fell to a fifth of their 2019 volume, and business flights to 36 per cent. The figures have since improved slightly but still stand at around half the numbers recorded pre-COVID era.
However, compared to the commercial air industry, the trends in the private jet industry show comparatively positive effects. With the increased fear of contracting COVID-19, and since private jets allow travelling with minimal interaction with other people on the flight and in the airport, many influential people globally turned towards the use of private jets.
In addition to minimising the risk of contracting COVID-19, wealthy individuals globally have realised how much time and hassle they can save by avoiding commercial airports and the typical delays such as flight cancellations and limited destinations.
Private fliers can design their schedules and fly directly to smaller cities. Thus, for the wealthy folks, flying in a private jet is no longer seen as a luxury but a tool to increase productivity levels and enhance cost efficiency.
In its annual survey, an American advanced technology company, Honeywell International, noted that about two-thirds of business-jet operators plan to fly more hours next year than in 2021.
This improved demand is buoying one of the few industries that never fully recovered from the Great Recession, as orders for new aircraft easily outpaced production during the second quarter of 2020. With the pandemic, more wealthy people now want to enjoy the privileges of private aviation, and since some of them have now been exposed to the conveniences associated with private plane travel, their increased demand would likely drive the private jet business.
Plane manufacturers too are stepping up to this rising demand, as they continue rolling out new jets with lots of innovations to stimulate sales.
Private jet shipments over the next decade are expected to total 7,400 at a value of $238bn, according to the survey by Honeywell. This is higher than last year’s prediction of 7,300 worth $235bn over 10 years.
The high demand for used aircraft is also compelling customers to purchase new jets even if they must wait a couple of years for delivery. Private jet purchases are expected to climb to 611 this year and to 647 in 2022, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co and annual purchases may reach 900 new jets within five years.
The convenience of owning a private jet, notwithstanding, many travellers don’t have the time or energy to be responsible for jet ownership let alone the costs.
About 25 years ago, an American aircraft company, PlaneSense, came up with a solution to this dilemma with a cost-effective fractional jet ownership programme.
To meet the demands of certain wealthy individuals who do not want the burden of totally owning a private jet, they set up a fractional jet share system that caters for these set of people, and at cheaper costs.
With fractional jet share, an individual pays for part ownership of a specific plane and will be allocated an amount of time in the aircraft. This usually ranges between 50 and 400 hours of flight time per year. The number of hours depends on the size of the share. In addition, they can use jets other than the one pay for; they have access to a fleet of jets.
The numerous benefits of fractional ownership are not limited to the incredible speed, affordability, reliability, and convenience of owning a share in one jet while leveraging a fleet. One can enjoy the private jet experience without the stress of owning the whole aircraft.
Compared to other regions within the world, Nigeria’s aviation market is still quite small. Forbes reported that between 2007 and 2012, 120 private jets worth over $6.5bn were imported into Nigeria. Wealthy business owners were not the only ones purchasing the luxury planes – pastors and politicians are among the buyers, too.
Forbes noted that as of 2014, $6.5bn had been spent on private jets by Nigerians, making it one of the largest markets in Africa for luxury aircraft and one of the fastest growing in the world. Over 100 private planes are said to be operating in the country – many of them owned by the country’s ever-growing number of business tycoons.
As a result of this increasing demand for private jets by wealthy Nigerians, aircraft manufacturers like Bombardier, Gulf Stream, Embraer, Hawker Siddley and Challenger have turned their eyes towards Nigeria, as it presents to them the potential for a huge market.
The abysmal state of the commercial aviation industry in the country – unexplainable flight delays, rickety aircraft, and other factors – has been a huge determiner for the increase in private jet ownership witnessed in the country.
Especially for stakeholders in the oil and gas industry, as well as the manufacturing sector, the private jet industry has enabled them to reach communities largely unserved by commercial flights and connect Nigerian communities hitherto isolated.
The recognition of what private aviation offers them has fostered the private jet market in Nigeria. Unfortunately, as was witnessed globally, the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the growth in demand and plans of investment in this sector.
However, in a turn of events, the pandemic has caused more wealthy individuals, as well as some people in the middle class, who were erstwhile uninterested in private jets, to join the fray. This is largely because private jets offer them the opportunity to interface with fewer people, reducing their chances of contracting the coronavirus and cutting down flight times.
Commenting on the trend, a former president of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, Sheri Kyari, noted that the global lack of capacity in the aviation industry was a factor in the increase in private jet ownership.
He said, “The absence of capacity to move airline travellers easily and conveniently around the world has caused many wealthy individuals to purchase private jets. This encourages and gives them flexibility in travelling.”
Kyari said some areas of the aviation industry would be better for this increased private jet ownership in the country.
He stated, “Agencies like the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency will benefit from it as there will be more revenue generated.
“Also, pilots and engineers will benefit from it as there will be more job openings for them. These private jets will require pilots to fly them as well as engineers to service and maintain them. So, this can serve as a source of employment.”
However, a professor of Aeronautics and Aeronautical Engineering and Vice Chancellor of St Augustine University, Lagos, Chris Odetunde, said only a few Nigerians could afford to buy private jets, adding that the costs of maintenance and carriage of limited passengers would make a dent on the aviation industry.
Odetunde said, “Private jets are for those who can afford it and only a few can afford and maintain them. It (increase in the purchase of private jets) is not really going to affect the economy. What private jets do in Nigeria is to cause capital flight. We are moving money out of Nigeria to other nations since we don’t produce private jets. So if I take my billions to buy a private jet, it doesn’t affect the economy. It just causes the transfer of capital from Nigeria to other nations and unless we are able to produce jets, we will be at a loss.
“Even without COVID-19, this (buying jets) is what people do anyway, and it never showed any radical change in the economy. So I don’t see how owning jets would affect the economy of Nigeria. The only way is that we can make the aerospace, aviation industry more robust to bring money into the country.”
He further advised that Nigeria should have a functional plant for the maintenance of aircraft so the planes could be serviced in the country instead of flying them out for maintenance.
He added, “If Nigeria can try the commercial flights within Nigeria reasonably well, many Nigerians would use them especially because of the insecurity situation in the country.”