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How this semi-private jet company is faring amid COVID-19

JSX CEO Alex Wilcox joins Yahoo Finance’s Zack Guzman to discuss how COVID-19 is impacting the future of air travel and the outlook for his semi-private jet company.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: If you're traveling out there, we have been tracking the traveler data here on commercial airlines, TSA providing that data. And we have seen that come back up here, topping 800,000 for the first time we've seen, in daily traffic, since the pandemic hit. But more Americans might actually be shifting away from commercial airlines to a little bit of a different option, that you might have thought might have been too expensive to actually consider. But here to discuss that with us, is the CEO of one of those hybrid private jet companies, here. You can call it that, you can call it a hop-on jet service. Alex Wilcox is the CEO of JSX. And Alex, I mean, this is an option that I don't think a lot of Americans would have considered out here, but-- but talk to me about how it might be more affordable than people think.

ALEX WILCOX: Hi Zack, thanks for having me on. And yeah, a hop-on jet service is just that. JSX is about four years old. We've got 24 airplanes and we're flying thousands of flights a month, back in January, and building back up now, you know, in the post-COVID world. You know, we were invented to kind of overcome the hassles of the major air carriers and everything they put in front of you to get from point A to point B. And that's most apparent, you know, in short haul services. So, for Burbank to L.A.-- Burbank to Las Vegas, rather, is our main market. And, you know, if you don't fly on JSX or drive, you're gonna spend two hours in an airport for 45 minutes on an airplane. And so JSX was designed to basically solve that problem. And you can just roll up 15 minutes before the flight, just like a private jet, that's a similarity-- similarity. But there are 29 other people on the airplane.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, and so that seems to be the most important thing to consider right now, when we think about health concerns, wearing masks, having to deal with people who might not want to wear masks. Obviously if you have fewer people on the plane, it seems safer. But interesting to ask you about traffic and whether or not you're seeing an uptick in terms of customer interest. Because we did see-- New York Times had this data looking at the 4th of July, and commercial air travel was down 74% year over year. Private jets were actually up 5%, according to data from aviation consulting firm, ARGUS. So in what you've seen this year, how has your own data played out in terms of, maybe, the average American actually [INAUDIBLE]?

ALEX WILCOX: Yeah, so we're-- we are, you know, we're a hybrid, so we're actually in between the two, you know, in terms of air traffic stats. You know, we flew about 3,000 flights in January. In April, which is kind of the nadir, we were down to about 300 flights, so literally 90% reduction in our schedule. And now, I'd say we're back up about 40%. And we saw a big spike in June when Las Vegas opened up. It's a big market for us, we fly from all over the west coast to Las Vegas. And so that was very significant for us. And then overall, since then, it's been a steady uptick week over week. And I think the commercial guys are still very much there in the 10% category, 10% to 20%. Private guys, I don't think has actually increased since last year, but it's certainly been less decimated than last year. Maybe they're 95% of where they were. Mostly leisure, mostly to, you know, spots that are less crowded. A lot of mountain traffic, lot of beach traffic, but not all whole lot business traffic.

ZACK GUZMAN: And that business traffic seems to be the one that a lot of people are worried about long term, maybe not coming back. You and I, right now, are chatting on a Google call and plenty of other people out there doing Zoom calls at work. What do you think about that idea that we might not see the business traveler come back and just satisfy themselves with just videoconferencing?

ALEX WILCOX: Well, you know, I think it's frightening for a commercial air carrier when you hear major corporations, Fortune 500 companies, particularly tech companies, tell their people don't go back till next year. Because means they're going to stay at home. And so I think the focus will be on leisure, and business is going to be decimated. You know, business travelers typically make up about 20% of people on an airplane in any given day, but 80% of the revenue. They're buying their tickets last minute, and they're flying more often. And so it's going to be very, very-- it's going to restructure, you know, what aviation looks like in this country for some time. For aviation and hotels in particular, but obviously, you know, convention cities and so forth as well. So I think it's going to be, you know, an overall contraction, very significant one. And I think, you know, to JSX's benefit, we will focus much more on domestic travel and short haul travel, and much less on international.

ZACK GUZMAN: On that front, real quick, before I let you go, you said flights start at $89. Very curious what the $89 flight is on a hybrid jet.

ALEX WILCOX: Yeah, so you'll-- you'll get on and go. Best thing about JSX is we've got no dwelling time and no crowds. It's a crowd free, care free service. So you roll up 15 minutes before the flight, you get on, you check-- we check you in. It's completely contactless. You know, we were already more convenient than everybody else, but now we've made it contactless as well.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah.

ALEX WILCOX: You roll up and you scan your boarding pass without even talking to anybody. You're on the airplane. Lots of comfort on board, lots of social space, lots of breathing room. And 45 minutes later you're NorCal, SoCal, Vegas, Phoenix, wherever you want to go.

ZACK GUZMAN: All right, there you go. The latest there. Maybe a private jet-- hybrid private jet might be a little bit closer and more affordable than we thought, here. Alex Wilcox, the CEO of JSX. Appreciate you bringing us that.

ALEX WILCOX: Thanks, Zack.