Private jet demand in Europe soars as ultra rich look to evade travel disruption

Many well-off American travellers are capitalising on the dollar’s recent gains against the euro

Some European chief executives have made the switch to private jets to avoid the travel disruptions. Getty
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As Europe grapples with a summer of travel disruption, the wealthiest are taking matters into their own hands.

Private jet use has surged by almost a third in recent months compared with pre-pandemic levels, stretching airport capacity from Ibiza to Mykonos.

London logged the most private flights — more than 12,000 in July — while Naples, Amsterdam and Berlin recorded the biggest increases in private traffic among the most popular airports from 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 add back staff they shed during the pandemic.

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

“The level of convenience is incomparable when you’re relying on scheduled airlines that have not put their game back together,” said Richard Koe, managing director at aviation consultancy WingX.

The number of people flying private for the first time has increased by as much as 40 per cent, he said.

Some European chief executives have made the switch to avoid the travel disruptions, as have many well-off American travellers enjoying the dollar’s recent gains against the euro.

North America made up the biggest proportion of international arrivals in Europe.

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

In an August 20 interview with Le Parisien, Transport Minister Clement Beaune said he wants to require private jets to make flight details public and set guidelines for their use when rail or commercial air options are available.

In the UK, where tabloids have long called out celebrities, royals and others for using private jets, the shift is also drawing scrutiny.

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

London reported 37 per cent more private flights in July than in the same period in 2019, while Paris reported a 43 per cent increase, according to the data.

Overall in Europe, private traffic rose almost 30 per cent from pre-pandemic levels to nearly 179,000 flights.

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

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

Private aviation has had its own set of disruptions. Many jets, for instance, are out of action due to maintenance delays caused by supply-chain issues in China.

“People used to call 24 or 48 hours ahead to get an aircraft to Ibiza,” said Isabelle Clerc, head of sales at Aeroaffaires, a network of private jet operators in Europe.

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

Prices have risen accordingly, driven not only by the lack of planes but also by a 73 per cent rise in jet fuel prices since last summer.

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

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

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

Updated: August 28, 2022, 4:30 AM