- The private aviation industry went from virtually no flights at the peak of the pandemic to thriving by year’s end.
- A surge in leisure travelers helped keep the industry afloat and spurred expansion for many aircraft operators.
- Aircraft manufacturers kept producing new models and even teamed up with the auto industry to offer some expensive package deals for unique pairings.
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It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for the aviation industry, but private aviation has become one of the 2020’s greatest success stories.
A promising start to 2020 quickly turned sour as fears of the novel coronavirus inflicted commercial flight cancellations across Asia, with the industry as a whole going off a cliff in March. Private aviation’s continued growth since the 2008 economic recession was halted overnight as there was simply no place to go during the pandemic’s peak.
A rush of wealthy flyers chartering emergency evacuation flights quickly turned into stagnation for many operators, with some firms temporarily closing up shop and furloughing workers. But its recovery began in earnest come May with more wealthy flyers taking to the skies as lockdowns ended across the US.
Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Colorado were among the most popular destinations early on as the wealthy wanted to social distance in peace and luxury. And aircraft manufacturers continued producing the latest and greatest private aircraft in preparation for when the world’s borders will once again be open for travel.
Here are some of private aviation’s highlights from 2020.
Vista Jet took delivery of its first Bombardier Global 7500
VistaJet became the first charter operator to acquire the Bombardier Global 7500 in 2020, offering travelers a new option for ultra-long-range travel. With a range of 7,700 nautical miles, the Global 7500 is the longest-ranged aircraft in its class, beating out any competitor from Gulfstream or Dassault Aviation.
Cities pairs like New York-Hong Kong, Moscow-Buenos Aires, and Los Angeles-Dubai are easily achievable under the right conditions. The jet even features a private bedroom complete with a full-size bed and owners can opt for a shower.
The Global 7500 is still one of the rarest private jets currently flying having debuted in December 2018. A sales firm was tasked with selling a brand-new model for $70 million from an owner who had purchased but no longer wanted the aircraft.
Airbus turns its controversial A220 into a private jet
Airbus unveiled the VIP version of its new A220 airliner, known as the Airbus Corporate Jet “TwoTwenty,” in October. European private aviation specialist Comlux was given the task of designing the interior.
Six orders have already been placed for the aircraft including two from Comlux, with operators looking to take advantage of the jet’s economics. Airbus says the plane can fly up to 5,650 nautical miles, enough to fly between Europe and the US West Coast. Comlux’s design includes an 18-seat cabin and a private bedroom with a king-size bed
A group of aircraft management and design firms including Kestrel Aviation Management, Camber Aviation Management, and Pierrejean Vision also unveiled an alternative design for the aircraft that includes a private office and cinema suite.
XO embarks on a massive fleet refurbishment and expansion program
VistaGlobal-owned XO is upgrading its fleet of Cessna Citation X and Bombardier Challenger 300 aircraft with interior updates and new paint jobs. The larger Challenger 300s were painted in Vista’s red and silver, better aligning the look of the two companies’ aircraft.
XO also made a major acquisition of Wisconsin’s Red Wing Aviation that saw the addition of 15 light jet aircraft. The firm’s fleet now includes a mix of light jet and super-midsize aircraft to give customers more flexibility when booking, complemented by a new booking app.
Bringing on more planes also means hiring more pilots. Kevin Thomas, president and chief operating officer of XOJET Aviation, told Business Insider that 4,000 pilots have applied for his company as furloughs have crushed the airline industry.
JetLinx acquires Meridian Air Charter
Jet Linx purchased Teterboro, New Jersey’s Meridian Air Charter in a deal that solidified the former as the second-largest aircraft management firm in the Northeastern US. CEO Jamie Walker told Business Insider in an exclusive interview that he decided to move forward with the deal during the pandemic, even when the industry’s recovery wasn’t assured, based on his experience during the 2008 economic recession.
“We had made the determination that if there’s ever a better time to start a new location, it would be coming out of a recessionary period,” Walker told Business Insider about his firm’s 2009 expansion to Dallas, which shaped his thinking on expansion when the economy took another turn for the worse 11 years later. “So having done it once already, it was an easier decision to make this time around.”
The move gives the Omaha, Nebraska-based company a larger foothold in the New York area as Teterboro Airport is one of the busiest executive airports in the country thanks to its proximity to Manhattan. We also toured Jet Linx’s private terminal at Teterboro to see just how different the airport experience is for the wealthy.
Private aviation firms focus more on health and safety
Aircraft operators are adopting new health and safety measures to reassure their customers that flying is safe and draw more new customers into the industry. Many now disinfect their aircraft and private terminals more frequently than before as it’s become a top concern for private flyers.
One firm, Silver Air, created a “COVID cleared” program where every step of the journey from door to door would be verified clean to eliminate fears of contracting the virus. Flexjet also now flies its flight crews around on private aircraft to prevent them from flying on the airlines.
Dassault Aviation unveils its Falcon 6X
Dassault Aviation virtually unveiled its Falcon 6X private jet, the latest in a family of aircraft that dates back to the early days of the jet age, in December. The twin-engine jet is billed as an “ultra widebody” since it’s wider than most of the competitors in its class.
Its other cool features include oversized windows, a skylight, and a heads-up display in the cockpit that can see through the clouds. The $47 million jet can fly up to 5,500 nautical miles, enabling city pairs like Los Angeles-Moscow, New York-Tel Aviv, and London-Hong Kong. Deliveries are slated to being in 2022.
Flexjet takes delivery of its first Embraer Praetor 600
Flexjet took delivery of one of Embraer’s latest aircraft, the Praetor 600, in November to be used for its European division as part of a $1.4 billion order. Its nine-passenger cabin comes with a mix of club seats and a divan, as well as an enclosed lavatory.
The jet’s impressive performance makes it a veritable jack of all trades, able to access Europe’s notoriously challenging airports like London’s City Airport and Switzerland’s Engadin Airport, as well as fly non-stop between Paris and New York.
Aerion breaks ground on its Melbourne, Florida campus
Supersonic jets will soon be built in Melbourne, Florida as Aerion is one of the frontrunners in the race to build a modern-age supersonic jet, opting first to create a business jet that can fly at speeds of Mach 1.4. The startup recently chose Melbourne International Airport in Florida to be the home of its new $300 million headquarters and production campus.
Melbourne is located on Florida’s Space Coast – soon to be the Supersonic Coast – just a few miles from NASA’s Cape Canaveral. Aerion CEO Tom Vice told Business Insider that the campus will be eco-friendly by reusing collected rainwater and providing electric vehicle charging stations for employees.
The first aircraft will fly in five years, Vice said, and will sell for $120 million.
Otto Aviation unveils a new private aircraft concept set to revolutionize the industry
A startup shocked the industry when it unveiled the Celera 500L, a plane that can fly 4,500 nautical miles at speeds of 450 miles per hour with costs lower than even the smallest private jet. Otto Aviation is seeking to make private aviation more affordable and environmentally friendly, and its oval-shaped aircraft is set to do just that.
An hour of flight time only costs $328, a fraction of what it costs to fly the Cirrus Vision Jet, and it can easily cross oceans with its intercontinental range while only burning 18 to 25 gallons of fuel for every mile it flies. At least 31 flights have been successfully flown with the Celera 500L and it’s scheduled for certification in 2023.
Bombardier delivers the first Global 5500 and Learjet 75 Liberty to a customer
While also building new models like the Global 7500, Bombardier also looked back at its existing models to see where improvements could be made. One such result was the Global 5500, the updated version of the Global 5000, which Bombardier first delivered in June.
Luxaviation Europe was the first customer of the $46 million aircraft that boasts a range of 5,900 nautical miles. It seats 12 passengers and can fly over 10 hours at a top speed of Mach .90 thanks to Rolls-Royce Pearl engines.
Bombardier also delivered its first Learjet 75 Liberty, an improved version of the Learjet 75 that includes an executive office and near-cross country range, in October. The Learjet name has been a staple in private aviation for decades, flying the likes of Frank Sinatra and James Brown.
An aircraft sales firm began accepting bitcoin for its planes
Sometimes cash isn’t always king. Sales firm Aviatrade began accepting cryptocurrency like bitcoin for its multi-million aircraft this year to give buyers more options when making a purchase. Accepting cryptocurrency allows international buyers to make major purchases without being subject to restrictions.
A $40 million Gulfstream G650ER was the first aircraft to be offered under the new program, but any of Aviatrade’s aircraft can be bought using the currency.
A flying cruise ship joined the COVID-19 airlift by transporting personal protective equipment from China
The early days of the pandemic revealed a shortage of personal protective equipment in the US as healthcare workers struggled to keep up with the influx of new coronavirus patients in hospitals. A perfect storm of high demand and fewer passenger flights meant that getting more from China was more expensive and private aircraft operators saw an opportunity to get their planes back in the air.
One of the aircraft that participated was a Boeing 777-200 named CrystalSkye that acted as a flying cruise ship before the pandemic under the Crystal Cruises brand and later became a VIP aircraft available for charter. The massive cabin is ideal for heads of states and the wealthiest of travelers as it includes butler service, a bar, a full dining area, and 88 lie-flat seats.
Kim Kardashian West later used the aircraft for her infamous island getaway and birthday bash.
Aircraft manufacturers teamed up with the auto industry for some expensive collaborations
Embraer and Porsche teamed up this year and unveiled their private jet and supercar pairing in November. Dubbed “Duet,” the pair includes a matching Embraer Phenom 300E and Porsche 911 Turbo S with a sticker price of $11 million that also includes a Porsche Design 1919 Globetimer UTC watch and luggage set.
For the most rugged travelers, Kodiak Aircraft Company and Himalaya unveiled their plane and vehicle pairing, also in November. The $3 million package includes a Kodiak 100 Series II and a modernized Land Rover Defender, as well as a lifetime membership to Himalaya’s experience center in Wyoming.
Both are geared towards travelers who are also pilots so they can conquer the land and sky with these machines.
Jeffrey Epstein’s former Gulfstream appeared on the market
A Gulfstream G550 belonging to Jeffrey Epstein was put on the market by Equus Global Holdings in July as its former owner no longer needed the plane. Epstein frequently used the plane to fly between his residences in New York, Paris, US Virgin Islands, and New Mexico.
The jet would’ve cost $61.5 million if purchased new but Epstein acquired it secondhand, records show. Federal authorities arrested Epstein after he likely disembarked this plane after a flight from Paris to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.
Comlux unveiled its Boeing 767 private jet with air that it says kills coronavirus
Comlux specializes in airliners-turned-private jets and one of its flagship aircraft is a VIP Boeing 767-200 named SkyLady. The aircraft recently underwent a cabin upgrade during the pandemic to include a private apartment within the plane, a first class cabin, and a premium economy cabin.
Just like CrystalSkye, which Comlux also operates for Crystal Cruises, this plane is meant for the upper echelons of society. One of the hidden upgrades that may be the aircraft’s new best selling point, however, is an ionization system that Comlux says kills the novel coronavirus.
Passengers onboard don’t need to wear a mask while on board as a result.
Leisure customers dominated in the industry and became the backbone for its recovery
Business travelers have been largely grounded since March as companies are shifting to virtual meetings to avoid sending their employees out on the road where they could possibly be exposed to COVID-19. The loss of the segment hindered private aviation’s recovery until another stepped up and took the skies in massive numbers, leisure travelers.
A surge of travelers over the summer continued into fall and has been propping up the industry while business travelers stay home. Firms began shifting their efforts towards leisure flying even more after a McKinsey and Company study found that only 90% of ultra-high-net-worth individuals don’t fly private, revealing an untapped market.
Expansion was widespread in the industry with XO looking to bring on more planes and pilots, Directional Aviation speeding up the launch of FXAIR, Jet Linx acquiring Meridian Air Charter, and Jet Edge International growing its point-to-point fleet of Bombardier Challengers.