In The Works: Convention Reflections

 - March 19, 2008, 6:33 AM

As most in the industry have come to understand, business aviation follows the general economy, but lags behind it by a year or two. The last few years were no exception. If you look at past issues of AIN, you’ll see that business aviation manufacturers were still logging record levels of deliveries in 2000 and 2001, even though the stock market tanked in the spring of 2000 and 9/11 sent shockwaves through the economy for at least a year-and-a-half, and in many ways still does. It wasn’t until last year that deliveries of new aircraft dropped off significantly, and the malaise continues this year. Next year appears somewhat promising in that it doesn’t look like it will be any worse than this year and may be a little better. But even if the general economy continues its upward trend of the last six months, which is far from assured according to many observers, business aviation is not likely to show a significant increase until 2005 or 2006.

The airplane manufacturers and startups are well aware of this and are responding. All have new projects under way, a few of which, such as the Falcon 7X and a slew of very light jets and turboprops, are completely new designs. But all the “new” jets introduced at the NBAA Convention last month in Orlando, Fla., by the big OEMs–the Bombardier XRS, Cessna Citation XLS and Gulfstream 450–are really just upgrades of current offerings. This is a clear and realistic reflection of the current state of the industry and economy, as well as a pragmatic assessment of the next few years. When there is continued uncertainty in the market, it’s hard to justify new investment in clean-sheet designs.

For the companies just getting into the turbine market, whether they are established builders of piston airplanes (Extra, Grob-Werke, Diamond, Vulcanair) or pure startups (Adam, ATG, CMC, Eclipse, Explorer, Safire, Sino Swearingen), the situation is the same, but different. Money still fuels development, and even those companies that have been most successful in finding investors have allowed their schedules to slide. Those who can’t raise funds put their programs on hold while their search for money continues. In the past, companies in this predicament often quietly faded away.

Money, of course, may not always be able to save a design flaw on an airplane, but it always regulates the speed of development and certification. When times are good, companies are often able to hold to program schedules by throwing more money, engineers and test airplanes at a problem. When times are tough, they stretch the program to fit the money available. But programs can stretch only so far before customers abandon all hope and depart for greener pastures.

Given the above, it’s not surprising that AIN has noted the slippage of many in-the-works airplane programs since the beginning of this year. Taking these alphabetically–and ignoring those programs that are in fiscal holding patterns–here’s a summary.

The Adam 500 program has slipped from an estimated certification in the second quarter of this year to this fall. Estimated certification of the Adam 700 has slipped from an unspecific late 2004 to December 2004.

Although Cessna said at NBAA that its Citation Mustang “remains on track for type certification in the third quarter of 2006,” this actually represents a slight delay from the previously announced expected certification in mid-2006.

Estimated first flight of the Dassault Falcon 7X has moved from the first quarter of 2005 to the third or fourth quarter of 2005 and certification from the second quarter of 2006 to the third or fourth quarter of 2006.

Diamond D-Jet first flight has slipped from mid-2004 to October 2004, but certification has been moved forward from the first quarter of 2006 to December 2005.

Estimated certification of the Eclipse 500 has slid from “December 2004 or later” to later: the first quarter of 2006. First flight with its new engine choice, the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F, is estimated for late next year.

Extra’s bankruptcy, now resolved, caused the estimated certification of the Extra 500 to slip from early this year to next spring.

Estimated certification of the Grob-Werke G-140TP has moved from the summer of this year to the fourth quarter. Estimated first flight and certification dates of the G160 Ranger have both been delayed, respectively, from this past summer to the fall and from “2004” to the fourth quarter of next year.

Gulfstream had not announced a first-flight estimate for the G150 at the beginning of this year, although first customer deliveries were penciled in for the second quarter of 2005. First flight was subsequently given as May 2005, but has now moved to a more indefinite 2005. Likewise, a subsequent certification estimate of January 2006 has been moved to a looser 2006.

Czech certification of the Ibis Ae270HP has slipped a few months, from this September to the fourth quarter of this year. The goal for FAA certification, similarly, has slipped from late this year to the first quarter of next year.

Raytheon Hawker Horizon certification, at the beginning of this year estimated in the fourth quarter (and originally estimated in the spring of 2001), is now penciled in for the middle of next year.

After altering the S-26 to make it the Safire Jet, Safire Aircraft stretched its development and certification program. The S-26 was supposed to fly this year, while the first flight of the Safire Jet is now estimated for the middle of next year. The goal for certification of the S-26 was next year, but for the Safire Jet it is mid-2006.

At the beginning of the year Sino Swearingen was officially estimating certification of the SJ30-2 in the fourth quarter of this year. But the number-two prototype crashed on April 26 and the company has yet to announce a revised certification date.

The Spirit Wing Williams FJ44-2C engine mod for the Learjet 20 series had an estimated certification date of the third quarter. Certification is now estimated for next summer.

JAA/FAA approval of the Vulcanair VF600W has slipped from an estimated late this year to the second quarter of next year.