Expectation vs. Reality in the Midst of a Pandemic

Without doubt, 2020 was a challenging year for business aviation. Our industry saw aircraft grounded, cancelled flights and countries shuttered against a raging pandemic that affected every aspect of our lives and economies.

COVID-19 caused much more disruption than cancelled travel. Profit losses and layoffs hit airlines, MROs and OEMs – even in our hometown of Wichita, Kansas, the Air Capital. Once we feared there wouldn’t be enough skilled aviation professionals to build, fly and maintain these aircraft. Now, there aren’t enough jobs.

As an agency serving a majority of business aviation clients, we saw both the challenging effects of 2020 as well as the industry’s resilient response.

business aviation in 2021 will again focus on sustainable aviation fuel
Ed Bolen introduces “I Want My SAF” sustainable aviation fuel panel at NBAA-BACE 2019.

The Numbers and What Really Matters

Success in 2020 looked a little different than it was forecast by the experts.

Both Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis for The Teal Group, and Brian Kough, Aviation Week’s senior director for Forecasts & Aerospace Insights, reported the same overarching trends in 2020 during a recent Aviation Week webinar.

  • Deliveries are down, both in units and value – but supply isn’t.
  • The large, long-range jet category is suffering more than smaller, shorter-range aircraft.
  • Utilization is on the upswing, especially for first-time charter travelers.

Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association, outlined it best.

  • What we expected to address in 2020: Sustainability, Technology and Workforce.
  • What we actually found to be important: Resilience, Innovation and Progress.

A Silver Lining in Every Cloud

Deliveries might have fallen – by 33%, according to Kough – but our clients saw year-over-year growth in aircraft sales and planned future flight activity from new customers. That’s resilience.

FlightSafety International, the world’s premier aviation flight training organization, was able to pivot to meet their customers’ needs successfully with their eLearning and LiveLearning programs. That’s innovation.

King Aerospace, an MRO in Ardmore, Oklahoma, serving corporate VVIP aircraft, such as Boeing Business Jets, is moving forward with building a new 90,000-square-foot hangar to meet demand. That’s progress.

Despite the obstacles, business aviation in 2021 has something to look forward to. Looks like Ed was right.

This column originally published in BlueSky Business Aviation News on Jan. 28, 2021.