On Tuesday of this week United Airlines said it was curtailing its just announced August flight schedule due to lack of demand. Barron’s reported net bookings at its Newark hub were down 84% year-over-year, according to an internal memo.
New Yorkers aren’t traveling, one might assume. Well, don’t jump to conclusions, too quickly.
The next day, Jamie Walker was 18 miles to the north. The CEO of fast-growing Jet Linx Aviation was at Teterboro Airport, an airport you might not be familiar with.
That’s because even in the good times, before COVID-19, you wouldn’t have found TEB on any airline schedules. It’s reserved for private jets. Last year it saw 73,159 departures, making it the nation’s busiest airport for the sector.
Like Newark, its popularity is driven by a mix of corporate headquarters and affluent suburbs in Northern New Jersey, and its adjacency to Manhattan, just across the Hudson River.
Just last September, Walker was also at Teterboro, celebrating the opening of its first base serving the New York City region. This time he was back to announce the acquisition of Meridian’s aircraft management and charter business.
The deal brings 23 jets, including long range Bombardier Global 6000s and 5000s, Gulfstream G550s, Dassault Falcon 7Xs. Sixteen will be based at airport, boosting the Jet Linx fleet there to 20 aircraft.
Quoting Jetnet, Walker, the Jet Linx CEO, says his company will now have the largest Part 135 fleet at Teteroboro, nearly double the next operator. Last year, measured by flight hours, Jet Linx ranked fifth nationally among charter operators.
For the Omaha-based private jet management and jet card membership company that last year opened in Austin, Boston, and Chicago, it’s now suddenly a force to be reckoned with in the private aviation capital of the world.
It may not be done. Walker has previously pointed to Westchester County Airport, north of the city, last year ranked third busiest in terms of private flights, for a future base.
If you are wondering why a travel business is expanding during the industry’s worst crisis since World War II, like others in private aviation, Walker says business is brisk. About half of new jet cards sold since the beginning of April are to consumers new to private aviation.
“This acquisition is a significant step in our strategic plan as we continue to enhance our fleet and flight operations serving the New York tri-state area and further develop the company as the leader in private jet travel. It could also not be better timed,” Walker says.
Data from Argus, WingX and inflight connectivity provider Gogo Business Aviation show in recent weeks private jet flights have recovered to 90% of normal levels. That’s despite minimal business travel and many popular resorts and destinations still off-limits or restricted.
For Jet Linx, which has its own dedicated terminals at its bases, it’s particularly well-positioned to attract affluent consumers who want to minimize potential coronavirus risk when they are traveling. One analysis shows chances of exposure are 30 times lower when flying privately.
The Meridian deal expands the Jet Linx fleet by more than 20%. However, in terms of adding airplanes, it is not alone when it comes to private jet operators.
Vista Global Holdings’ XOJET Aviation, the third biggest U.S. charter operator by flight hours, said it is adding four super midsize jets to its 43 Challenger 300s and Citation Xs. Plans call for 20 more, according to a spokesperson.
Nicholas Air, which ranks in the top 20 charter and fractional operators, also said it’s expanding its fleet with two factory-new Embraer Phenom 300E light jets, an investment of over $20 million.
“The need to acquire additional aircraft is a direct result of what the consumer is telling us. Demand for the Nicholas Air program has steadily increased over the past five or six months,” says, Peder von Harten, the vice president of sales & marketing.