The airline industry could restart in the second quarter, says aviation exec

Private passenger jets sit on the tarmac at Geneva International Airport in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday, March 13, 2020.

Stefan Wermuth | Bloomberg | Getty Images

There will be a “significant rebound” in the aviation industry once borders start to open up, the founder of a private jet company said this week.

Air travel has been badly affected by the ongoing coronavirus crisis, with demand evaporating as countries scramble to limit the spread of the disease.

“We’ve got to be ready for the restart, and the restart will come,” said Thomas Flohr, chairman of VistaJet.

“We believe that to be taking place in the second part of the second quarter, towards the end of May or early June,” he told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Wednesday.

The virus has infected nearly 1.5 million people and killed at least 81,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

“We believe there will be a significant rebound eventually, once borders are slightly starting to open up. People will need to travel,” said Flohr.

He also said traffic in Asia and Australia is reopening “slightly.” The region was the initial epicenter of infections before hotspots emerged in Europe, the Middle East and America. Signs of recovery have appeared, with people being allowed to leave Wuhan on Wednesday for the first time since the Chinese city went into lockdown in late January.

VistaJet sees “certain pockets of traffic” between Australia and Southeast Asia, as well as repatriation flights into China. 

While it’s “very difficult” to forecast what will happen for the rest of 2020, Flohr said there are “slight hopes of improvements.”

He predicted, however, that airlines will have trouble trying to restore services. 

“It will be difficult for the airlines to restart the logistics, to restart this entire global network because initially, you will have very low load factors,” he said. “Is it then worthwhile to deploy a 777 or an Airbus A380 on a route which was obviously profitable when there was a load factor of 80%, 90%?” 

Flohr suggested, for a start, that private planes could be used when it doesn’t make business sense to fly a commercial aircraft.

“We just need a few passengers on board and maybe that’s where the business aviation world can work closely together with the airlines,” he said. “We are happy to collaborate.”

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