Is Private Jet Charter Demand Still High Post-Covid?

How is the private jet charter market settling after the peaks in demand brought on by the Covid pandemic? Matt Harris spoke with Hera Flight’s Jonathan Hollar to get his insights...

Matt Harris  |  07th August 2023
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    Matt Harris
    Matt Harris

    Matt Harris is Commissioning Editor for AvBuyer. He is an experienced General and Business Aviation...

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    Passengers board a private charter jet

    The charter market soared to unprecedented levels during the Covid pandemic. After the initial shock of lockdown, those who could afford to fly privately did so, utilizing the market as a safe way to travel without using crowded passenger terminals and airline cabins.

    Some of those who used charter for the first time returned to their more traditional Scheduled Airline travel arrangements once it was safe to do so, while others realized the distinct benefits that Business Aviation offers, increasing their skin in the game by becoming first-time owners of a private jet.

    Although the number of Charter flight hours and bookings have dipped from their Covid-related peaks, Jonathan Hollar, Owner and Chief Pilot at Hera Flight says bookings remain strong today.

    “Things are down about 10-12% from the highs we experienced, and about 4% from 2019 [pre-Covid],” he reveals. “The airline industry has always been like riding a wave, and I can’t say the private charter market is any different. We still have strong trip bookings, there’s just a little less chaos.

    “The Heavy and Super Mid-Size jets still fill up nearly daily. For example, our Gulfstream GIV, GV, Cessna Citation X and Bombardier Challenger fleets still do 100 or more hours each per month,” he shares.

    Building a Successful Charter Jet Business

    Jonathan Hollar (pictured left) was 16 years old when his father, a Vietnam helicopter pilot, promised that if he got his pilots license he’d buy him an airplane. From the day Jonathan first soloed, he was hooked.

    Obtaining his license at 17, his father proved good to his word, making his son the proud new owner of a Piper Cherokee. By the time he was 25, Jonathan had already flown for over 12 different charter companies. “It was at that time I just couldn’t take their operational decisions anymore,” he recalls. “I knew I could do it better myself.”

    Through a lot of trial and error with several Part 135 start- ups, he eventually found success with Hera Flight. “I had been working 20 hours a day for years, flying upwards of 1,000 hours annually and doing whatever I could to multiply the process to more than one airplane,” he shares. “There was a point where I was the Chief Pilot or Director of Operations for three charter companies at the same time.”

    The breakthrough came in 2018 when he met up with Chuck White, a former boss who he initially contacted about acquiring an aircraft. Instead, the duo ended up in a partnership that led to the start of Hera Flight. When the unprecedented trials of Covid hit just two years later, the pair could never have foreseen the “heavy months” that unfolded.

    “We were receiving very few trip requests in those early months of Covid, and the larger charter companies were slashing their prices by more than half,” he says. “That was something we couldn’t do. The sales department was sending hundreds of quotes daily, without any response.

    “But when the activity opened up again, boy did it open – the demand was incredible,” he adds. “For two years all we had to do was send a quote and it was [as good as] a booking. Chuck and I were still in the process of building the Hera Flight certificate, but this certainly helped us.”

    The Charter Market of Today & the Future

    As of this year, the characteristics of the private charter market looks similar, to Jonathan, as anything he’s seen in the market across the past 15 years. Charter activity both in the United States and globally are settling with no noticeable shifts in the types of destinations charter users are booking today.

    But there has been one noticeable shift in demand since Covid. “In 2019 and as far back as I could remember we could fill our calendar up to 60 days ahead,” Jonathan reveals. “Then as people started to fly after Covid, for a period of a few months those bookings dropped to only six weeks out.

    “Now our programs tell us that 40% of all our bookings are just 72 hours out. This is not ideal for a charter operator as it puts more stress on our salespeople, but thankfully Hera Flight’s fleet is large enough now where pilots are operating on schedules.

    “Without pilot schedules, operating with 72-hour notice periods would be much harder.”

    Looking ahead, Jonathan hopes to see a portion of new private charter users from the Covid years remain. 

    “We did hear from hundreds of clients who told us during the Covid time that it was their first time flying private. I would hope around 10% of them would stay, booking private charter flights. But most likely it’ll settle somewhere below that,” he predicts.

    “We have seen reports that private aircraft ownership is up over 10%, too. Even though those people won’t charter the same amount as they initially did, it is good for the industry, generally, and extra lift would still be required by those new aircraft owners on occasion.

    “The good news is that people got a taste of the convenience private jets offer, and now they know what this side of Business Aviation is all about,” he concludes.

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