Sagging sales will be followed by slight uptick

 - May 6, 2008, 8:41 AM

Business aircraft deliveries this year and next will drop slightly, while over the same 12- to 18-month period new orders should start to pick up slightly. These are the core predictions of the latest business aviation outlook report published by Honeywell Aerospace last month. And they are broadly supported by the new forecast document from its engine-making rival Rolls-Royce, which also proclaimed its findings at the NBAA show in Orlando, Fla.

Foreseeing a gradual return to higher levels of demand, Honeywell has estimated a requirement for 7,600 new corporate jets valued at more than $121 billion from 2003 to 2012. “Significant aircraft backlogs (currently recorded at more than 1,800 units), bolstered by the appeal of new and derivative aircraft models entering service and continued growth in fractional ownership, position the industry for a near-term period of sustained demand at current or slightly lower levels,” the report concluded.

The Rolls-Royce study (covering demand for business jets above 10,000 lb mtow) forecast 14,670 units from this year to 2021, a period that is almost twice the length of that covered by Honeywell. It too says that deliveries this year and next will be down.

Significantly, however, Honeywell’s survey work was concluded in the spring, before the recent equity price slide on Wall Street and the mounting prospect of a major war in the Middle East. Honeywell’s analysts have since turned to the group’s field-service representative to take a more recent pulse reading of consumer confidence, but have conceded that they cannot accurately quantify the possible market effect of potential factors such as a prolonged oil crisis or a return to recession.

The Honeywell results assume that projected U.S. economic growth over the next four to six quarters will be achieved. The Rolls-Royce number-crunchers cut their projections by about 7 percent to take account of the direct effects of September 11.

That said, Honeywell predicts that the arrival later this decade of the next wave of new models in the sub-100,000-lb mtow class of business jets will see annual deliveries climb steadily to 900 units. But the report also pointed to a softening of demand for larger airliners configured as business jets (such as the Boeing Business Jet). It  predicted total deliveries in this niche at around 150 in the next decade, with a combined value of $7.5 billion. By comparison, Rolls-Royce’s 20-year forecast predicts 240 bizliner deliveries.

Despite slowing order rates in some segments last year, the industry-wide backlog is still relatively high and has not been significantly depleted by order cancellations. Honeywell reported that the 352 deliveries during the first half of this year marked a 13-percent decline on the record-breaking output of the same period last year. By year-end, around 700 new aircraft should have been delivered (compared with 769 last year), and about 650 are forecast for next year.

New models accounted for 44 percent of all aircraft mentioned in the latest purchase plans gathered from some 1,000 flight departments in North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Buyer interest was measured against historical analysis of survey expectations compared with actual market behavior. These results were cross-checked against airframers’ own sales forecasts.

The Honeywell forecast estimates that the world market for business jets over the next five years will see new airplane deliveries 3 percent ahead of results for the last five years. “Despite unsettled economic conditions since late 2001, purchase expectations rose slightly above last year’s levels in the aggregate and were up in three of the four regions,” it says.

By 2012, the fractional-ownership fleet will comprise 10 to 12 percent of all active business aircraft in the world (compared with around 7 percent today). In the near term, demand from fractional programs will account for 15 to 16 percent of deliveries and this is forecast to reach 20 percent by 2012. Honeywell has estimated that the fractional players now account for as much 45 percent of the current backlog.

Rolls-Royce Forecast in Detail

Of the 14,700 deliveries forecast by Rolls-Royce, a full 26 percent will be what it refers to as light/ medium jets (20,000 lb to 33,000 lb), a category that includes the Gulfstream G100, Citation Sovereign and Excel, Hawker 800XP and Learjet 45.

The Rolls-Royce report also said that total business jet flying hours will more than double from about 4.5 million this year to more than 11 million in 2021, with fractional operators accounting for the greatest increase, rising from the current annual level of one million hours to four million at the end of the 20-year period. The UK-based engine manufacturer expects the fractional market to consume around one third of all new deliveries through 2021.

Regional Highlights

According to Honeywell, North American operators will replace or expand the equivalent of 22 percent of their jet fleets over the next five years, with the average age of equipment replaced rising slightly to just over 10 years. The new survey says that around 71 percent of all new jet sales will be from the world’s dominant business aviation region, which will, nonetheless, see its global share decline by 3 percent through 2012.

New jet purchase plans in the region are now rising slightly above record levels identified by Honeywell’s 1999 survey. Over the next five years, western Europe should account for about 14 percent of worldwide business-jet demand. Operators expect to replace or expand almost one-third of their current fleets, compared with an average over the past five years of around 22 percent. Just over half the new deliveries here will be new or derivative models.

Struggling economies, currency crises, higher fuel prices and rising user costs are reigning in spending plans throughout Latin America, according to Honeywell’s forecast. Despite this, operators reported plans to replace or expand about 18 percent of existing fleets with new jets–in line with average rates over the past five years. The average age at which aircraft are replaced has dropped by three years since 2000 to reach 11. The continent’s demand amounts to just under 6 percent of Honeywell’s worldwide total over the full survey period.