SOME private jet companies have seen a rise in demand from wealthy Russians who want to spend time in the West during the coronavirus crisis but who were unable to take commercial flights amid tight restrictions by airlines and governments.
Passengers are heading for countries such as Britain and Cyprus where they own property, have residency rights, sometimes thanks to holding dual nationality, or have close relatives, according to industry sources.
They are paying from 16,000-25,000 euros per flight, a fee that can cover up to 13 passengers, the sources added.
“People are tired of lockdown living … they are looking for ways to get out,” said Aleksandr Osit, owner of the JETVIP broker company which says it has registered a surge in one-way Europe-bound flights in the last two months.
The use of private aircraft when most airlines stopped flying is not illegal and not unique to Russia, with reports of Chinese flying home from the United States and Americans landing in elite domestic vacation spots.
In March, there were 250 private jet round flights between Moscow and Europe, flight tracking data from 80 planes registered with Russian and European charter firms show, though the data did not specify how many people were on board each.
Private jet flights continued in April, albeit falling to 61 round trips that month despite Russia suspending regular and commercial charter flights to and from Russia with some exceptions and locking down Moscow, the epidemic’s epicentre.
The frequency of such flights rose to 107 between May 1-26.
Three aviation sources said the number of Russians flying into the country in March outweighed those leaving at a time when Russia had a relatively low coronavirus count and European countries were reporting far greater numbers.
That trend reversed over time, the three sources added, and more people are leaving Russia, which now has the third highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, though with a relatively low official mortality rate.
Jet Partners, which offers private jet flights, said it was experiencing an increase in requests for destinations in France, Spain, Cyprus, Britain and other European countries.
“People believe that it is safer for them to be at their private residences abroad,” said Margarita Lomakina, the company’s commercial director.
Stanislav Kruglov, an account manager with Vip Group Aero, said he had received dozens of requests from mid-April for flights to Vienna, Larnaca and Riga from individuals and families with children.
The Sirius Aero private jet airline said prices for flights were 20-30 percent lower in April and May compared to the same period last year.
Rosaviatsia, Russia’s federal aviation industry, declined to comment on the patterns in private jet use.
(By Maria Vasilyeva and Gleb Stolyarov with additional reporting by Rinat Sagdiev; Writing by Maria Vasilyeva/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Mike Collett-White)