Business aviation meets Covid-19 crisis head on

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The business aviation sector has entered lockdown and is taking radical measures to cope with the major operational and business challenges presented by the spread of coronavirus.

At the time of writing the US Government had banned all incoming travel from European Union, UK, China and Iran citizens indefinitely and warned US citizens to avoid international travel apart from those who are returning home.

The EU has introduced a 30-day ban on the arrival of non EU-citizens to member states and Russia is closed to all foreign visitors until May 1. Australia and New Zealand, India, North Africa and the Caribbean have also barred foreign arrivals. 

Across the world, people have been asked to travel only when absolutely necessary. 

Travel restrictions are a matter of public health and safety, but some essential travel is continuing, with business aviation playing a role in facilitating this. 

 

Temporary increase 

Despite the restrictions and emergency mitigation measures, the immediate effect on business aviation was positive. Many charter operators, FBOs and brokers reported an increase in
activity during March. 

Online broker PrivateFly saw a 60% increase in enquiries for flights during March compared to last year. However, the company sees the increase as a temporary benefit. 

Adam Twidell, CEO of PrivateFly said, “These flights are mostly repatriations – bringing families back together. We’ve had some fantastic feedback from people that we are helping get home. There has also been a little critical business travel and people finishing off work, signing off contracts for deals and the like. 

“But in the longer term we are expecting the rundown from the top levels of business travel and the leisure end to be very challenging.

“As in the financial crisis of 2008, companies could go out of business and there will be changes in the market. We are already looking at what things may look like after the epidemic.”

 

Solidarity is strength

Patrick Hansen, CEO of European aviation group Luxaviation said, “The big issue is what is happening over the next few months, possibly longer.

“Over recent years, this is an industry that often manages on small margins and we have clients that pay notoriously late. Combined with an economy that could be at a standstill – it’s a recipe for disaster.

“I’m proposing we temporarily remove the feeling of competition from the sector. In several months I don’t want to be in an industry that has been so badly affected that it does not work anymore, with aircraft grounded, no support services available and safety compromised.”

Luxaviation has launched the European Business Aviation Solidarity Initiative (EBASI) to make the company’s procurement and administrative resources available to other business aviation companies for free (see box Covid-19: More information). The company has also invited the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) to join and run EBASI “when it is ready and on-board” with the initiative.

Hansen said, “We have resources that smaller companies don’t, like procurement offices and teams of people working on how to access government aid in the different countries we operate in.”

Hansen said he hopes to help small companies access suppliers so they can continue operating. He is also trying to set up a fund by June, backed by a bank and the EBAA to guarantee payments within the supply chain.

 

Data demands

The EBAA said it supported solidarity initiatives such as EBASI, but that it needed to consult its members and governing bodies before committing to any specific initiative. The trade association is taking many actions to help the sector manage its way through the crisis. 

Most recently it partnered with data analytics company Osprey Flight Solutions to make real-time updates on global risk information related to the Covid-19 outbreak freely available, so that companies can make more informed decisions. Osprey’s dashboard, which can be registered for online (see Covid-19: More information at the bottom of the page), provides the latest data on the spread of the virus, overlaid with Covid-19 related NOTAMs and all information on travel restrictions.

Athar Husain Khan, secretary general of the EBAA said, “It’s vital that we support all of the industry during this uncertain time. We are working to alleviate the crisis with coordinated and concrete measures for the whole industry, including business airports.

“As an association with more than 700 members, working together is in our DNA. We need to work together now more than ever. We are working to provide guidance, verified information and to represent the industry. 

“We also encourage companies to consult with their local associations to leverage their local networks.” 

The association has launched an online resource center (See box Covid-19: More information at the bottom of the page) to provide the latest guidance and information. 

Despite the initial increase in activity, which Husain Khan said showed how “responsive the sector can be in a crisis”, since travel restrictions were introduced EBAA members have been reporting airport closures and staff being put on leave. 

“It’s harder to work out the long term impact – we are going through the data and responding on a daily basis. Just like for the rest of aviation there will be a severe impact,” Husain Khan said. 

“We are calling on governments to consider all possible measures, including financial and operational aid, so that operators can support the economic recovery when it happens.”

For example, an issue has been how to maintain the validity of licenses and airworthiness certificates during the crisis. EBAA and others have worked with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to develop and issue an exemption template to the Competent Authorities across Europe as quickly
as possible. 

The association is also running a data collection exercise with its members to assess and record the damage the crisis causes to business aviation, so it can address needs in a hierarchical way. It is also working with national associations and authorities to help operators on a local basis, Husain Khan said.

 

Relief packages

In the USA the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is distributing information and advice about coronavirus and is also calling for government aid. The trade association has co-signed a letter with major aviation groups to ask for a government relief package that covers companies conducting operations under FAR Parts 135 and 91 subpart K. 

These packages should cover “medium to long-term liquidity assistance and relief from air transportation excise taxes,” the letter sent on March 18, states.

Bryan del Monte, president of marketing company The Aviation Agency, which is based in Bloomington, Minnesota, believes it is vital for business aviation to be heard in calls for aid. 

He said, “Aviation is more than the airlines. Airports will suffer because of this crisis – most of their revenue is derived from landing fees. 

“Governments need to look after the whole ecosystem with packages of measures that include airports. If there is a silver lining for business aviation, it is that it will get to show its worth. Commercial aviation will not get back to pre-corona crisis levels quickly.

“With our use it or lose it approach to capacity, if the charter operators, FBOs and airports can figure out ways of working together, it could be advantageous”

Flexibility will also be key not just in how people work on a daily basis, but also with company’s core business models, believes Del Monte. “If you are an FBO and there are no airplanes flying, you need to consider what else you can do. Charter companies should be asking themselves if they can fly cargo instead of passengers,” he said.

“Post-corona, aviation is going to have to take responsibility for the sale and build trust again. We may see new rules around hygiene to help that.”

 

Advice & inspiration for coping with Covid-19

The business aviation sector has responded robustly to the coronavirus epidemic. But keeping operations running with stringent hygiene measures, travel restrictions and a worsening economic situation will be challenging. 

“Communication and flexibility is key during times like this,” said Adam Twidell, CEO of PrivateFly, which is running twice daily briefings for its staff on the crisis. “It’s not a question of operating remotely for a few days. You have to establish new ways of working and operating that could last months,” 

Bryan Del Monte, president of The Aviation Agency said, “Be transparent and communicate with your customers and stakeholders. Ask for help if you need it. Don’t overreact and have some faith in your ability to survive. There will be a rescue package.”

Small businesses in the USA should register with the Small Business Administration, which is likely to be the mechanism for aid for smaller companies, added Del Monte.

Patrick Hansen, CEO of Luxaviation Group said, “Keep going, keep working as hard as you can. Keep talking to your suppliers, your stakeholders, your customers and your employees. If you don’t do it, assume nothing will get done during this crisis.

“Let’s put our rivalries aside and make sure we come out of the other side of this. Let’s make our voice heard.”

Covid-19: More information

Up to date and verified information about Covid-19’s impact on business aviation can be obtained from the following resources:

EBAA’s Covid-19 page, with links to other resources from aviation authorities and regulators:
www.ebaa.org/covid-19-resource-centre

NBAA’s central Covid-19 page:  www.nbaa.org/aircraft-operations/safety/coronavirus

Osprey’s Risk dashboard can be registered for at: open.ospreyfs.net

Business Airport International’s website: www.businessairportinternational.com

European Business Aviation Solidarity Initiative: www.luxaviation.com/en/group/ebasi

Universal’s comprehensive resource for flight planning: www.universalweather.com/blog

 

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 20 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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