Demand has risen for private-jet operators as carriers make deep cuts to flight schedules and the well-heeled avoid commercial airports and planes.
“Aircraft are getting booked literally in minutes,” said Richard Zaher, chief executive officer for Paramount Business Jets, based in Leesburg, Virginia. “It’s been unbelievable.”
Zaher said his business is up 30% from this time last year. At JetSet Group Inc., it’s 60% higher, said founder Steven Orfali. Volume for weekend flights between New York and Miami are up five-fold for Blade Urban Air Mobility, with most of the traffic going one-way to the south.
“Wealthy people are trying to get out of the more infested areas,” said Orfali, whose company is based in New York. People in the city “are going to Florida. They’re going to the Grand Cayman. They’re going all over the place just to get out of New York.”
Those fleeing for what they presume to be relative safety are unlikely to find it, with confirmed cases of the virus in all 50 states. Florida, for one, would rather visitors stay away. Governor Ron DeSantis, who said some of the state’s cases had clearly been imported, has asked the Trump administration to limit domestic travel.
Canada has closed its borders to noncitizens, except for people from the U.S.
The end to the private-charter boom could be in sight, said Adam Twidell, chief executive officer of the international broker PrivateFly. But for now, “being more agile and reactive than airlines, our industry is able to operate last minute flights, within what’s operationally possible.”
Blade’s New York-Miami route uses aircraft built for 65 passengers that were retrofitted before the coronavirus outbreak to accommodate just 16, each in a window seat, and with no overhead compartments, said Melissa Tomkiel, Blade’s fixed-wing president.
Each passenger must complete a hospital-grade temperature screening at check-in, she said. Blade uses electrostatic technology to disinfect planes’ interiors and the on-ground private lounges.
Even with fuel prices plummeting, private-jet fares are holding steady or even rising, Zaher said. The demand has made it difficult to find business jets and in some cases customers must pay to have one plane flown in from a different city to pick them up, he said.
For a private flight on a light Hawker jet that seats up to seven, it costs about $13,000 before tax to travel to Palm Beach from New York City. New York to Los Angeles in a heavy Gulfstream IV jet that seats as many as 14 runs about $39,000 before tax. Blade’s New York-Miami runs cost $2,450 per seat.
“Right now,” Zaher said, “people are more likely to fly privately if they can afford it.”
That’s only for now, Orfali said. “There are more restrictions coming down the pipeline almost by the day.”