Flight risk: Charter jet companies report uptick in business amid coronavirus outbreak

February 20, 2020

With many commercial flights to and from mainland China have been suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak, charter and private jet operators say it’s been “all systems go” for them amid the global health emergency, ABC News reports.

Once thought to be reserved for ultra-wealthy jetsetters, these planes also have been contracted by governments, including e U.S. health authorities, to repatriate their own citizens from China or to send medical supplies to the impacted region.  

Specific data on charter jet travel is not publicly available, ABC News notes, but a handful of the major operators have said they have been flooded with requests.

“Over the last four weeks, the number of coronavirus related inquiries Air Partner has received across the business has increased,” Air Partner—a global aviation services group based in the U.K. that recently helped to evacuate 308 British and EU nations from Wuhan, China—said in a statement. “This includes increased private jet inquiries, requests for medical equipment cargo flights, and emergency evacuations.”

The carrier explained that it had taken precautions to protect healthy crew members and flyers. The aircraft were configured for the flights, with the upper deck designated for crew rest only so that there was clear segregation between the evacuees and the flight crew. There was also a separate section in the nose of the aircraft, which could be used as an isolation zone for passengers if necessary.

“The coronavirus outbreak has been an extremely difficult time for everyone involved and we are very pleased to have safely repatriated a large number of British and EU nationals on behalf of the U.K. government,” Mark Briffa, the CEO of Air Partner, said in a statement.

“Since the outbreak our offices around the world have been arranging flights on local charter aircraft as the world deals with the travel disruption and overall cut to capacity to the region,” Justin Lancaster, the company’s commercial director, said in a statement.

He added that in addition to flying passengers, they have transported 100 metric tons of surgical masks, and that “it has been all systems go since the epidemic was first reported.”

“Some customers have tried to avoid infection by flying with their families on private jets to avoid travelling on commercial aircraft with a large amount of people, whereas several organizations, as well as governments, have evacuated en masse on larger aircraft, such as an Airbus A380,” Lancaster said.

PrivateFly, a booking service for on-demand private jet charter, told ABC News that the company also has noticed an uptick in demand for private flights due to coronavirus.

Adam Twidell, the CEO of UK-based PrivateFly, told ABC News in a statement that the company is “certainly seeing increased demand for private flights out of China, and have had a significant number of inquiries over the past two weeks, from groups and individuals.”

Twidwell said that one was to “set up four flights out of Wuhan for hundreds of passengers for a government client in South America.”

However, demand has been so high, that the charter and private flight companies have told the network news outlet that they haven’t been able to meet all the requests they’ve received.

The coronavirus outbreak in China continues to dampen global economic activity. As of Tuesday, February 18, officials in the country confirmed 72,531 cases of coronavirus and 1,870 deaths due to the virus.

Research contact: @ABC

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