The executive (private) business aviation sector faced what seemed like an existential crisis in 2020. It has bounced back better than nearly anyone expected. But it also experienced significant changes that will likely become permanent.
Commercial business aviation faced a similar reckoning during the pandemic, of course. Its recovery has been slower and more uneven, with considerable regional variation. The surge in leisure “revenge travel” obscured much of that weakness, but as the aviation industry writ large normalizes into a post-pandemic rhythm, it’s a bit easier to see.
Despite ongoing challenges, aviation industry insiders have every reason to be optimistic about the future. They expect these four key trends to drive business across the sector in 2024 and beyond.
- Personal Short-Haul Aviation Is Having Its Moment
People have been dreaming about affordable personal aviation since before “The Jetsons” made it look cool. Of course, affordable personal aviation is really hard to pull off, which is why it’s not a thing yet.
But that could be changing, and it’s likely that higher-end business users will drive its development. Seasoned entrepreneurs like aviator Sky Dayton, a key early backer of Joby Aviation, are all-in on the idea, and recent tech breakthroughs increase the odds that their bet will pay off.
In the not-too-distant future, air taxis could replace ground vehicles for regional trips, not just from the airport to the city center or (for example) Boston to the Cape but point-to-point journeys up to 200, 300, even 400 miles.
- Electrification Is Right Around the Corner (But Not for Everyone)
With aviation accounting for about 2% of global carbon emissions (per the IEA) and even higher shares of some other types of pollution, business travel could prevent some companies from reaching their net-zero targets in the coming decades.
For shorter trips that could plausibly be taken in air taxis or smaller business jets, electrification could be the solution. Many air taxi companies are in the process of commercializing high-energy batteries with several-hundred-mile ranges, and future breakthroughs could further extend their service.
Unfortunately, without more fundamental breakthroughs, energy density constraints take long-haul electrification off the table. For trips longer than 500 to 600 miles, sustainable aviation fuel seems like the best bet right now.
- “BizLeisure” Travel Could Be the New Normal
The “BizLeisure” travel boom, where business travelers set aside time for themselves before or after the main event, shows no signs of slowing down. It’s a win-win for travelers cautious about taking too much time off work and for companies increasingly focused on mental health.
It’s also a boon for tourism boosters and convention planners alike. In traditional leisure destinations, BizLeisure travel smooths out seasonal ups and downs in visitor volumes. In traditional business destinations, it enables diversification away from feast-or-famine conventions and “destination leisure” events like NFL games and stadium shows.
- Affordable Aviation Subscriptions Could Finally Make a Dent
Like personal aviation, the path to profitability for truly affordable private jet subscription providers (as opposed to fractional models like NetJets) has proven more daunting than expected.
That could finally change as commercial airfares grow more expensive in real terms and discerning business travelers seek more space and comfort. It’s an old, familiar dynamic that could bear fruit for entrepreneurs in this nascent but exciting space.
Strap In — Business Aviation Isn’t Going Anywhere
Business travel skeptics (yes, that’s a thing) have confidently predicted the demise of the business aviation sector for years.
They’re not right yet, and based on current trends, they’ll have a while longer to wait. The enduring value of in-person collaboration and consultation is plainly evident, even if technological leaps make remote alternatives feasible.
At the same time, the business aviation sector will surely change in the years and decades to come. Some of these trends will prove temporary, others longer-lasting, and still others may come to define the industry as a whole.