General aviation deliveries experienced an overall drop in the first quarter from the same period last year, according to numbers released last month by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, but the decline was not as severe as that seen between 2008 and 2009, adding fuel to the speculation that the industry may have weathered the worst of the recent downturn. While overall deliveries were down 15 percent in the first three months of the year compared with the same period last year, industry billings rose more than 7 percent, from $4.33 billion to $4.64 billion, thanks largely to international deliveries of large-cabin, long-range jets. “These numbers are being released on the heels of the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition, where many of our manufacturers noted that the market seems to be stabilizing,” said GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce. “Reported flight activity from the FAA and Eurocontrol is on an upward trend and the used aircraft inventory is slowly decreasing. However, these first-quarter figures reveal that our industry is far from a recovery.”
Manufacturers delivered 164 business jets in the first three months of the year–their lowest output since the first quarter of 2005–and a decline of approximately 14 percent over the same period last year. Yet despite the fall, deliveries were up for long-range aircraft such as Bombardier’s Challenger 605 and Globals, Dassault’s Falcon 7X and Hawker Beechcraft’s Hawker 4000, while Gulfstream handed over only two fewer of its large-cabin jets. Both Airbus and Boeing delivered more bizliners this year than in the first quarter of last year, increasing their billings by $293 million and $52.5 million, respectively, year-over-year.
Overall, with the exception of Boeing, all the North American OEMs saw deliveries fall year-over-year, while Dassault–which more than doubled deliveries of its flagship 7X–saw its totals increase by nearly 55 percent over 1Q 2009 levels.
Embraer continued to ramp up production of its Phenom 100. Deliveries of the very light jet rose from six in the first quarter of 2009 to 16 in the same period this year, contributing to the manufacturer’s 150-percent gain in deliveries.
The scales tilted in the opposite direction for Cessna, which delivered 21 Citation Mustangs in the first quarter of the year compared with 29 in the same period a year ago. The Textron subsidiary’s earnings dropped from $557 million to $192.83 million. “All through the downturn everyone suffered to some extent, but it was the lighter business aircraft, the ones that are operated primarily by individual owner-operators, that really got hammered,” said Raymond Jaworowski, senior aerospace analyst with Forecast International. “The economic recovery has been fairly sluggish so far; it’s not surprising that the recovery in the business aviation market is also sluggish.”
Bombardier posted modest increases in deliveries of its long-range aircraft in the first quarter, and its billings rose to $1.499 billion, an increase of $129 million over 2009’s first-quarter total. While the Canadian manufacturer doubled deliveries of its Learjet 60XR from three to six in the first quarter of this year, it handed over only one Learjet 40/45XR compared with 14 in the first three months of 2009.
Hawker Beechcraft also saw a nearly 40-percent erosion in deliveries (jet and turboprop), handing over 27 aircraft in the first quarter of the year compared with 44 in the first three months of last year. King Air deliveries were slashed by more than half, retreating to 13 in the first three months of this year from 29 in the same period last year.
In total, pressurized turboprop deliveries fell by 47 percent to 35 aircraft from 66 in the first quarter of 2009. Piaggio, which delivered five Avanti IIs in the first quarter last year, handed over just one aircraft in the same time span this year. Single-engine turboprop producers Pilatus, Piper and Socata, which moved 32 aircraft in the first three months of last year, saw that total decrease to 21 through March of this year.
Piston aircraft continued their decline. In the first quarter last year 179 were delivered. The first quarter of this year saw a decline of 7.3 percent.