Clear skies for bizjet and turboprop deliveries

 - September 2, 2008, 5:32 AM

Despite a softening U.S. economy and soaring fuel prices, demand for business jets and turboprops remains strong, according to the latest delivery report from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA). The trade association announced a record-setting first half of the year, with total industry shipments (including the slumping piston segment) rising by 1.6 percent and billings increasing nearly 25 percent over the same period last year, totaling more than $12 billion. “Expanding worldwide markets are having a positive effect on the turbine segments of our industry,” said Pete Bunce, GAMA’s president and CEO.

Leading the charge was the business jet category, where deliveries rose nearly 40 percent over the same period last year, for a record 663 aircraft. The sector was buoyed by Eclipse Aviation, which despite delays in reaching its predicted full production levels delivered 112 EA-500 VLJs during the first half of the year. This placed newcomer Eclipse comfortably in the lead for deliveries of one model, but old hands such as Cessna delivered more airplanes in total. Nearly every single jet airframer experienced a double-digit increase in output. Cessna saw its first-half tally rise from 163 aircraft last year to 213 so far this year, spurred in part by its boosting Citation Mustang VLJ production from 10 to 34 aircraft, while Bombardier doubled Learjet 60 output to 16 aircraft in the first half of this year.

While not as robust, the turboprop market also had solid growth, with an overall increase in shipments of nearly 20 percent (15.5 percent for the pressurized turboprops that appear in our chart). Italian airframer Piaggio, which has experienced spotty production rates in the past, more than doubled the output of its Avanti II twin pusher from six to 13, while Hawker Beechcraft increased King Air production, shipping 17 more of the twin turboprops in the first half of this year.

The overall industry increase came despite the continuing slump in the piston segment, which saw a more than 15-percent decrease in deliveries during the first half of this year, declining to 1,034 aircraft from 1,226 in the same period last year.