What are the opportunities for Empire in the charter market during – and after – the pandemic?
In every crisis – even one as dramatic and rapid as the current pandemic – there is always an opportunity; a crisis often simplifies objectives and focuses a business on the really valuable assets at its core – people and relationships. There is no doubt that business aviation has the chance to demonstrate its value, in the situation as commercial aviation struggles.
Despite the operational challenges, we have ensured our focus has remained on our aircraft owners and their assets, our own uniquely experienced and capable team, and the entire ecosystem of partners that we work within and depend on. It has been a demanding time for everyone and it is essential to respect this fact and support each other as we all try to navigate the situation together and minimise any potential longer term risks.
There is no doubt that we are all facing challenges but there has also been continued demand to fly in the safe surroundings of a private aircraft. We do see a strong uptake and demand for private aircraft so far through the pandemic, as organisations and people with the means available, prefer the comfort and psychological safety of private terminals and private aircraft, travelling with people they know and trust. In some instances, a private aircraft has been the only option.
How has business aviation come into its own during this crisis? Has this been a good advert for the sector?
We believe that business aviation can do what no other form of mobility can – reaching hard-to-reach places with the ultimate in personalisation, convenience, flexibility and privacy. We have continued to demonstrate this through the pandemic and so it has proven to give us a range of use cases.
The sector continues to be very bullish about the future of business aviation and in regions where flying has been unrestricted to some extent, there has indeed been very good utilisation of private aircraft over this time. However, the idea of demand surging going forward is probably over-optimistic; a lot of people may want to fly privately but if the downward pressures on the economies continues, many of those same people or companies may either no longer have the means to fly privately, or may choose to avoid the extra cost to protect their own financial health by preserving cash. The mass online video conferencing experiment we are currently experiencing may also prove influential.
What is likely to happen with the second hand private jet market? Could we see an increase in sales?
In terms of the pre-owned aircraft market, we believe there will be a surge both in demand and supply. There will be many organisations and individuals who have a new appreciation of the value of business aviation and will want to buy a used aircraft as a safe travel option for themselves, their families or companies. On the supply side, there will be more companies affected through this crisis that will be forced to remove their aircraft, at least extra ones off their own balance sheets.
What kind of support is business aviation getting from governments around the world? It must be challenging planning flights given current and disjointed restrictions.
There is an enormous amount of disruption to aviation across most of the world and all the civil aviation authorities are responding and supporting with regular information updates on this fast moving, complex and unprecedented situation. This is vital and we have continued to receive the full cooperation from the relevant authorities when operating any repatriation flights. These updates help our operations team to plan aircraft movements for our owners and for charter customers, which are especially challenging at the moment. The team continues to do an excellent job and we do not expect any major changes until governments start to change or remove restrictions on the aviation sector.
What are the biggest challenges – and opportunities – Covid-19 has presented to business aviation?
The physical restrictions, with aircraft and crew stuck in remote locations have really posed the biggest logistical and people-related challenges for us. We have had to be very agile and creative in planning to get the right management and maintenance support out to aircraft, without the free movement of people.
There have been several opportunities for us to support both individuals and governments in the repatriation of people stuck away from homes and families. Working with Intelyse, a global assistance company based in Dubai, we were able to operate two repatriation flights between the UK and Iraq, including for over 150 Iraqi citizens in time for the Holy Month of Ramadan. We also had several requests for uplifting urgent cargo, medical supplies and medical personnel.
What does the recovery look like to you?
We remain cautiously optimistic about the recovery, specifically for private aviation. I believe that the recovery is not going to be immediate, although we may see a temporary rally, so we are planning for the long haul and believe that eventually private aircraft will become a more commonly accepted and even preferred mode of business travel. However, the recovery may be asymmetrical and could also see some closures and M&As in the sector.