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Jet set scramble as skyrocketing demand for private planes drives delays, cancellations

Stock MarketsOct 11, 2021 09:06AM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Bombardier BD-100-1A10 Challenger 350 aircraft (Registration CS-CHE) of NetJets Europe takes off from Sion airport in Sion, Switzerland April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse 2/2

By Allison Lampert

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Private business jets once provided refuge from airport waiting lines for the few that could afford them, but the fading pandemic has driven demand to such heights that even wealthy travelers now face cancellations and delays.

While a headache for some jet set travelers, the crunch is a boon for makers of corporate planes built to carry 19 or less passengers in luxury, with announcements for new orders expected at the world's largest business jet show that starts Tuesday.

Some fractional ownership and charter plane operators are turning away business, face a further crunch as the holiday season looms - and are buying more planes.

Traffic has surged above 2019 levels in the United States. Combined with staffing shortages, the situation is squeezing industry services from fueling to catering, while fewer spare planes are available to replace jets that break down, executives said.

To protect service, NetJets Inc recently suspended sales of jet cards, which allow customers to pre-pay for blocks of flight hours.

The world's largest private jet company said it is investing approximately $2.5 billion for 100 new aircraft to be delivered between now and the end of 2022.

"The vast number of flights is taxing the air travel infrastructure in ways we haven’t seen in years," said Ohio-based NetJets.

It saw about 10 times more flights delayed due to air traffic control in June 2021, compared with June 2020 when flights dived during the pandemic.

Flight demand is "currently exceeding all other highs" in its 57 years, with an average of around 500 flights a day compared to under 400 a day in 2019, it said in a statement.

"While most owners have experienced business as usual in their recent travels, a few have felt the challenges that coincide with heightened demand across the industry," it said.

Fly Exclusive, which provides jets to charter operators in a kind of wholesale business, is seeing a significant increase in requests since their clients are increasingly running short of aircraft.

Investors closely watch the dynamic in the private jet market as operators are key customers for corporate planemakers.

The delays are creating complaints among affluent travelers who are already looking for alternatives.

Amanda Applegate, a partner at aviation law firm Aerlex Law Group said she received 10 calls last month alone from clients who were unhappy with their service.

"In good times I don’t get any calls or at most one or two every six months or so," said Applegate, who works on deals to buy and sell planes and is an information hub for her clients.

Applegate said she isn't quite sure what to tell private jet clients who are looking for the best service. "There's just not enough capacity."

Ian Moore, chief commercial officer at private jet company VistaJet, said there is less tolerance in the industry for customers who cancel or put off flights at the last minute without penalty because they get stuck at in a meeting.

Now, the planes don't wait. "There's just not enough supply for that anymore," Moore said.

Jet set scramble as skyrocketing demand for private planes drives delays, cancellations

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