Aviation has never faced a crisis as severe as the current one. Unfortunately, it may be a long time before the industry recovers.
With a new headquarters in Dallas/Fort Worth and investments from Qatar Airways and JetBlue Airways, JSX Inc. planned to spend to 2020 expanding beyond its West Coast roots and introducing customers in other regions to its unique business model.
But then came March. Now the company, the like many others, is just trying to stay in business.
Over the past three weeks, JSX, which operates both private jets and scheduled flights for the public, has parked airplanes, cut jobs, and reduced spending on everything from contractors to snacks. Each day, demand for the company’s private jets — they operate under the name JetSuite — and scheduled service is falling.
Skift reached JSX CEO Alex Wilcox on Tuesday afternoon to ask about business. Here is an edited version of the discussion.
Skift: How’s business?
Alex Wilcox: Terrible.
The thing that we are in business to do has disappeared. Or at least 90 percent of it has disappeared.
Skift: You were founded in 2006 as a private jet company. A decade later, you launched a public charter airline that shuttles passengers among West Coast airports. People like it because there’s no TSA security screening. Are customers still flying?
Wilcox: We’ve shrunk down to a minimum viable schedule, one flight per day in each market. We’ve also suspended our Seattle market. We went from seven a day, Burbank to Vegas, to one a day. Burbank-Oakland is down to one a day.
We are only flying five or six of our 24 JSX airplanes every day.
Skift: Can you fill the planes you’re still flying?
Wilcox: We are doing OK. We capped the flights at 20 passengers to maintain some distancing, so we can guarantee every single person that they won’t sit next to somebody else. There are 30 seats on the airplane.
I think people might be flying us a little more than they are flying the majors just because we have those sterile terminals and a much smaller footprint, and there’s no need to put your stuff in a TSA bin.
Skift: Some major carriers have started flying cargo-only flights to squeeze revenue from empty airplanes. Are there any tactical opportunities for you?
Wilcox: There are some spot opportunities. People need to move medical supplies. You have to move doctors from here to there. We are not quite as dead in the water as a major carrier would be, because there’s still stuff that has to move, and nobody needs to charter a 787 to move one or two doctors.
Our airplanes are well suited to tactical opportunities like that, but that doesn’t make up for 500 flights a week going to 100 flights a week in the space of a week and a half. It’s just crazy.
Skift: Do you think you’ll completely stop flying?
Wilcox: We will see what happens with the majors, if they get their wish and the government grounds them. We will have to make a decision, unless we are part of that grounding, in which case it is academic.
Skift: What about the private jet business?
Wilcox: There was a spike, for sure, for a short period of time. Every time a community goes on lockdown, all the kids who are in college get flown home and the ones who are super affluent get to do it on a private jet. There are little spikes of business here and there, community by community, as it happens. But none of it is sustainable.
We are probably flying two or three of our 12 light jets every day.
Skift: You say JetSuite can withstand the crisis. But any guesses on how long it will take aviation to recover?
Skift: I do think there will be a V-shaped recovery. But I think every week that this thing goes on, there will be more casualties. People just don’t have the balance sheets to sustain it.
Skift: You’ve be in this industry for decades. You were an original JetBlue employee in 1999. Is this the worst crisis you’ve seen?
Skift: Yes. Other than the four days after 9/11 when we were parked, I have never seen demand go to zero like this. After 9/11, people started flying four days later. It was very obvious to everyone what happened. It was kind of a unique event.
This thing is just insidiously frightening to everybody. The last thing anybody wants to do right now, unless they have to, is get on an airplane.
Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to the parent company as JetSuite. It recently changed its corporate name from JetSuite to JSX Inc.
Photo credit: JSX, a passenger airline, has parked many of its airplanes. JetSuite