Demand for private jets in Europe soars as ultra-rich look avoids travel disruption

As Europe grapples with a summer of travel disruption, the wealthy are taking matters into their own hands.

The use of private jets has increased by almost a third in recent months compared to pre-pandemic levels, extending the capacity of Ibiza airport to Mykonos.

London saw the most private flights – more than 12,000 in July – while Naples, Amsterdam and Berlin saw the biggest increases in private traffic among the most popular airports compared to 2019 levels, according to data compiled by the European Business Aviation Association.

The surge comes as Europeans, eager to travel as coronavirus restrictions were lifted, flocked to airlines that have struggled to replenish staff they lost during the pandemic.

British Airways, Deutsche Lufthansa and other major carriers have canceled tens of thousands of intra-European flights this summer due to staff shortages.

“The level of convenience is second to none when you rely on scheduled airlines that haven’t replenished their game,” said Richard Koe, managing director of aviation consultancy WingX.

The number of people traveling privately for the first time has increased by 40%, he said.

Some European CEOs have made the choice to avoid travel disruptions, as have many affluent US travelers taking advantage of the dollar’s recent gains against the euro.

North America accounted for the largest proportion of international arrivals to Europe.

The rapid growth has sparked a political storm in France over carbon emissions from private jets as the country tries to meet its climate targets.

In an August 20 interview with The ParisianTransport Minister Clement Beaune has said he wants to require private jets to make flight details public and establish guidelines for their use when rail or commercial air options are available.

In the UK, where tabloids have long called on celebrities, royals and others to use private jets, the change is also attracting attention.

With soaring inflation and a cost of living crisis weighing on the lower and middle classes, the surge of jets has become a point of economic contrast in the country.

London reported 37% more private flights in July than the same period in 2019, while Paris reported a 43% increase, the data showed.

Overall in Europe, private traffic increased nearly 30% from pre-pandemic levels to almost 179,000 flights.

The figures are even more striking in light of the drop in air traffic from Russia following the conflict in Ukraine and tough international sanctions.

In July, Moscow reported just 354 private flights, a fraction of the 1,862 flights recorded three years ago.

Private aviation has seen its own set of disruptions. Many jets, for example, are out of service due to maintenance delays caused by supply chain issues in China.

“Before, people called 24 or 48 hours in advance to get a plane to Ibiza,” explains Isabelle Clerc, sales manager at Aeroaffaires, a network of private jet operators in Europe.

“It wasn’t a problem last year, but this year if you haven’t booked a week before, you can forget about it.”

Prices have risen accordingly, due not only to the lack of planes, but also to a 73% rise in jet fuel prices since last summer.

Flying privately from Paris to Mykonos now costs around €25,000 ($24,993), almost twice as much as a year ago, according to Aeroaffaires.

With the threat of a global recession, the outlook is unclear.

WingX’s Mr Koe said the current tightness in the private jet market could continue if airlines were forced to continue cutting flights over the winter.

Updated: August 28, 2022, 4:30 a.m.

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