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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Commercial airlines might be struggling, but small private jets are busier than ever, especially in Florida and other Sunbelt destinations.

The big picture: Untethered to their homes and offices during the pandemic, the wealthy are escaping to vacation homes and ski resorts — and paying handsomely to avoid commercial flights.

  • The private COVID getaways helped offset a collapse in corporate flights over the past year.
  • Now private jet companies are hoping those leisure travelers will be hooked on the convenience even after the pandemic subsides.

Why it matters: Layered on top of a resumption in corporate flights, the leisure boom could mean a big growth spurt ahead for the typically stable private aviation sector.

Driving the news: Investors see plenty of promise in private jet travel, otherwise known as business aviation, and experts predict more consolidation ahead for the fragmented industry. A few examples:

  • Wheels Up, an on-demand service that matches fliers with available aircraft, is going public in a SPAC deal that values the company at $2 billion — more than twice its 2019 value.
  • Vista Global, parent of subscription-based XO jet service, is acquiring Apollo Jets, a leading air charter provider.
  • Aero Technologies, a "semi-private" luxury jet startup from Uber co-founder Garrett Camp, raised $20 million in Series A funding earlier this month. It's offering $1,250 one-way flights from Los Angeles to Aspen and plans to add more routes soon.

Between the lines: Small planes — four to seven passengers — are the busiest, with fourth quarter departures down only about 10% from pre-pandemic levels, according to David Wireman, head of Alix Partners' aviation practice. "That's people flying their families around."

  • Flights on larger jets — the 10- or more seaters used by corporations — are down as much as 26%. Commercial airlines, by comparison, are still seeing passenger traffic 55% below pre-pandemic levels.
  • "We went from being a bit of luxury to now being a utility," Sentient Jet CEO Andrew Collins tells Axios. His company sold $450 million worth of its pre-paid Jet Cards in 2020, 50% more than usual.

The intrigue: It hasn't yet translated into increased deliveries for plane manufacturers, but sales of preowned business jets soared 13% in 2020, notes independent aviation consultant Brian Foley.

What to watch: Innovations like the on-demand apps that have made booking a private flight almost as easy as hailing an Uber will continue, predicts Wireman.

Yes, but: The popularity could be short-lived for those whose wallets stretched in order to book private planes in 2020, counters Foley.

  • "I feel that as soon as the airlines are perceived as safe again, a lot of those people will run back and look for their Economy Plus upgrade."

Go deeper

The hard math behind America's labor shortage

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Congressional Budget Office; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yes, the pandemic has created unusual temporary labor market dynamics. But in the bigger picture, the 2010s were a golden age for companies seeking cheap labor. The 2020s are not.

The big picture: In the 2010s, the massive millennial generation was entering the workforce, the massive baby bo0m generation was still hard at work, and there was a multi-year hangover from the deep recession caused by the global financial crisis.

Advocates fret Roe v. Wade's 49th anniversary could be its last

Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Women's March Inc

As Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion access in the U.S., advocates warn the ruling is "more at risk now than ever."

The big picture: The Supreme Court in December heard a challenge to a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that could throw Roe's survival into question, or at least narrow its scope.

Updated 14 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker