Business aviation activity in the U.S. came to a virtual stop in March 2020 with flight activity plummeting unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times. This, of course, was a direct result of an unprecedented shutdown of the U.S. economy, travel restrictions, and general uncertainty from the coronavirus. As travel came back to life in the summer, activity began to increase with most airports down roughly 20 percent for the year. But with a wide variation between airports, NATA asked the Aviation Resource Group International (ARGI) to assemble 2020 data for the TOP 500 airports.
After two relatively stable years, business aviation activity in 2020 declined in all three categories.
The last time aviation service businesses experienced this type of decline in demand was the Great Recession (2008-2010). Although business aviation activity recovered by 2016, it took six long years for demand to return to 2007 levels. So far, the current recovery from 2020 looks different since the very benefits of private travel are being spotlighted and shifting more passengers from airline terminals to FBOs. If this trend holds, it is likely to attract the attention of high profile private equity investors, as seen in a recent Bloomberg article on the current frenzy to take Signature private, which details why aviation service businesses are poised for growth.
The airport-by-airport analyses rank the TOP 500 airports based on 2020 jet activity. While most airports report declines, there are notable exceptions highlighted in the data. Airports and FBOs can use the data to track trends and compare activity data with other
airports in a particular region.
In our current work on transactions the trajectory of the return of flight activity has proven useful. Fort Lauderdale Executive (FXE), for example, ranked 16th in 2020 but declined in 2020 activity, specifically a 9% reduction in jet activity. Looking at a month-to-month analysis, however, the trajectory of the recovery of activity from the April low (down 70%) shows increases above the previous year as shown below. The increased activity in the last two quarters of 2020 points to similar increase in 2021 as the pandemic recedes.
I hope the accompanying listing of the TOP 500 airports is useful as you plan your business in a post-COVID economy.
Methodology Note: The activity data is available at FAA.gov and the TFMSC database for “Airports.” The data is filtered to include “Business Aviation” (this eliminates other activity like airlines and most flight training) and grouped by “Physical Class,” (i.e., Jet, Turbine and Piston).