General aviation aircraft deliveries during the first three months of this year experienced another overall drop of 4.6 percent compared to the first quarter of 2010, while billings declined by nearly 20 percent to $3.7 billion, according to statistics released last month by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. The decline in deliveries was less than that between the first quarter of 2009 and 2010, which saw a drop of 15 percent. “This has been a difficult year to date as a result of the slow economic recovery in North America and Europe,” said GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce. “Emerging market deliveries continue to help sustain the industry.”
One possible indicator of an industry rebound lies in the piston market, which showed signs of growth during the first quarter with a better than 13-percent increase in the number of deliveries over the same period last year. “This good news may be indicative of the start of a recovery in the traditional markets that we hope will accelerate with the 100-percent expensing tax provision in the U.S.,” said Bunce.
“We’ve maintained all along that the pistons would lead the charge coming out of this downturn and we’re seeing strong evidence that that’s the case,” New Jersey-based industry analyst Brian Foley told AIN. He views the piston segment as a bellwether for the entire general aviation industry. “That market just acts much quicker than the other segments because it’s generally individuals that buy those things and if they’re not feeling good about their balance sheets they can just stop buying on a dime; conversely, when things get better and the market improves, they’re the first to take out their checkbook and write a check.”
Foley also suggested the low first-quarter performance could be a result of buyers who were looking to take advantage of tax incentives at the end of last year. “I think people rushed to get their deliveries into the 2010 calendar year and as a result there are fewer 2011 first-quarter deliveries,” he said. Under that scenario, Foley expects deliveries to increase as the year progresses, culminating in a relatively strong fourth quarter. “It’s our hope that we will find at the end of the year that 2010 will have been the trough for business jets as far as new deliveries go.”
Manufacturers handed over 128 business jets, the lowest first-quarter tally since the start of 2004, when 114 bizjets were delivered, and a decline of 22 percent from the same period last year. In general, light jets continued their slide but there were exceptions. Bombardier, whose deliveries dropped by 10.6 percent year over year, delivered just one Learjet 40XR/45XR in the first quarter of last year, but handed over 10 during the first three months of 2011. Aside from the Challenger 300, which saw the same number of deliveries in both years at nine, the Canadian airframer posted declines in all its other models. While Global deliveries were off by only one year over year, output on the Challenger 605 dropped by nearly half in the first quarter of this year.
Cessna, which saw its first-quarter deliveries fall last year by 55 percent, saw no decline this year, delivering 31 twinjets in the first quarter of both years. Production of the Citation Mustang saw a decline from 21 in the first quarter of 2010 to 11 January-through-March of this year, but that was partially offset by the introduction of the CJ4, of which it delivered eight. The Wichita airframer also ramped up deliveries of its Citation XLS+, moving from one delivery in the first quarter of last year to four in the opening quarter of 2011.
Fellow Wichita manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft saw its bizjet deliveries decline by 21 percent year over year mainly due to the reduction of Hawker 900XP deliveries from eight to two year-over-year. The company saw minor increases in the number of Hawker 750s and Premier 1As it handed over.
In Savannah, the number of large-cabin Gulfstreams remained static, with 20 delivered in both years’ first quarters, but the General Dynamics subsidiary saw deliveries of its smaller G150 and G200 cut in half between the first quarters of 2010 and 2011.
Embraer, which had seen steadily rising numbers of deliveries even as other manufacturers were paring back production, has now joined the trend, posting a 60-percent decrease in the number of private jets handed over during the first three months of 2011 compared with the previous year. The Brazilian manufacturer, which handed over 16 Phenom 100 VLJs during the first quarter last year, delivered just two for the same period in 2011, while simultaneously increasing the output of its larger sibling Phenom 300 from one to four.
Dassault also saw a first-quarter decrease in deliveries, from 17 Falcons in the first three months of 2010 to nine in 1Q of this year, representing a decline of more than 47 percent. With the exception of the lone Falcon 900LX handed over in the first quarter of this year, the French airframer tallied fewer deliveries across its entire product roster, including the flagship 7X (six in this first quarter versus nine in last year’s).
In terms of the traditional airliner makers, Boeing and Airbus both dialed back bizjet production, with Boeing delivering no BBJs in the first quarter of this year.
While GAMA lists a greater than 6-percent decrease year-over-year in the turboprop category, in the pressurized segment the news is positive, with manufacturers showing a 5.7-percent increase in deliveries. Hawker Beechcraft delivered three more King Airs in this year’s first quarter than it did in last year’s, while Piper increased the deliveries of its Meridian from two in the first quarter of 2010 to seven in the same period this year, a bump of 250 percent. Though Piaggio delivered one Avanti II twin during 1Q of both years, Pilatus and Socata decreased deliveries of the PC-12 and TBM 850 singles by more than 33 and 28 percent, respectively.