Civil Aircraft Sales Drive Growth of U.S. Aerospace Industry

 - December 10, 2012, 10:10 AM
Boeing announced on December 3 that it had delivered 377 Next Generation 737s, setting a single-year record. The company also set a record this year with orders for 1,031 copies of the 737NG and 737 Max. (Photo: Boeing)

The U.S. aerospace industry’s sales tally grew by 3.4 percent this year, to $218 billion, led by a strong performance in the civil sector, according to preliminary estimates released by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) on December 5. The figure marks the industry’s ninth consecutive year of growth.

Civil aircraft sales amounted to $60.6 billion, or 28 percent of total aerospace sales. For the first time since 2002, civil sales exceeded those of the military sector, which the AIA estimates will draw $58 billion this year. Civil aircraft sales increased by $7.4 billion, or 14 percent, from 2011.

Transport aircraft backlog–a measure of Boeing’s performance–stands at 4,144 aircraft, worth $305 billion, according to the AIA. The order backlog includes 2,845 Boeing 737s, 812 B787 Dreamliners and 335 B777s. Foreign orders accounted for 72 percent of the value of the backlog.

This year, U.S. aerospace exports to other countries increased by $10 billion, to $95.5 billion. Exports of civil aircraft, engines and parts represented 88 percent of all exports and $9 billion of the increase. The industry’s trade surplus–the gap between exports and imports–increased from $55.8 billion in 2011 to $63.5 billion this year.

The AIA predicts that overall aerospace sales, including sales of missiles, satellites and related products and services, will grow to $223 billion next year. “The overall projections for 2013 are generally positive, excluding the domestic military market,” the association said. “However, much depends on strong and sustained economic recoveries in the U.S. and Europe.” It said continued funding and deployment of the NextGen air traffic management system and “obtaining a consensus international framework” on emissions reductions through the International Civil Aviation Organization remain key industry priorities.

The looming threat of “sequestration,” or automatic federal government spending cuts, tempered the association’s positive outlook. Unless Congress passes a deficit-reduction package by the end of the year, sequestration will force $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next decade, split between civil and defense agencies. The FAA would see its annual appropriation cut by an estimated $1 billion, affecting its ability to manage the national airspace system and to fund NextGen.

“The FAA is an agency that will keep things operating safely no matter what,” AIA president and CEO Marion Blakey, a former FAA administrator, said during the association’s year-end luncheon. “But an approximately billion-dollar cut to that budget is massive. That will affect the schedules of the airlines [and] the facilitation of the way passengers are handled.”