* Recovery of the private jet industry has ‘leveled off.’
Monthly flight totals at Teterboro Airport declined at the end of last year, perhaps reflecting a broader slowdown in the recovery of the private jet business, industry experts say.
Declines at Teterboro, by far the country’s busiest airport for private jets, were 3.6 percent in October and December compared with the same months a year earlier, according to data from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the airport. The November decline was 1.4 percent.
"It is indicative of what’s going on nationally," said Dan Hubbard, spokesman for the National Business Aviation Association.
The recovery has "leveled off," he said. The private jet business has struggled since the financial crisis hit in 2008.
"We’ve definitely seen a flattening in the fall of 2011 and it’s continued into 2012," said Ken Forester, chief executive officer of The Meridian Cos., a Teterboro-based seller of charter flights, which manages 23 jets for corporate and individual owners.
"I assume it’s related to the overall economy. I think there is more uncertainty than there was a year ago," Forester said.
Private jet travel soared in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, as more executives and millionaires eschewed the hassles of commercial flying. At the same time, opportunities abounded for shared ownership of jets with international reach from companies such as NetJets.
But the industry was battered by the economic downturn, and its image and prestige were tainted by auto executives seeking taxpayer bailouts who flew in high style to Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress.
As the economy improved last year, so did private jet travel. But the rebound that looked robust in 2010 has slowed.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, business jet takeoffs and landings peaked at 4.8 million in 2007 and plunged nearly 30 percent to 3.4 million in 2009.
Last year, flights increased 2.9 percent to 3.8 million, after an 11.4 percent rise in 2010.
Flights at Teterboro increased 1.8 percent in 2011 after an 8.4 percent increase in 2010. Those increases followed five straight years of declines.
Generally, private jet travel goes up and down with the economy. Signs have been mostly positive lately and corporate profits strong, so reasons for the slowdown are hard to figure.
Concerns about the European debt crisis "may have spooked folks," said Brian Foley, a business aviation analyst in Sparta. "No recovery runs in a straight line from A to B," he said.
The General Aviation Manufacturers Association said last month that 681 new business jets were delivered in 2011, compared with 727 deliveries in 2010. The group’s chairman said lack of access to credit was a main concern.
"We’re just pressing ahead," Forester said. "We are assuming we are generally in an upward economy."
Meridian’s business dropped by 40 percent after the Lehman Brothers investment bank collapsed in 2008, he said. But as business picked up in 2010, 5 percent pay cuts and profit sharing bonuses were restored and the company has added three planes to its fleet in the past year.
"We’ve got tremendous price competition now but we are happy with the way things are going, as long as this dip is temporary," Forester said.