AIN’s Crystal Ball

 - January 4, 2012, 4:25 AM
Diamond D-Jet

Judging from the new aircraft programs that are speeding toward certification and those that are languishing, there is a clear indication of where the general aviation industry is heading. The trend is toward well financed, large-company programs involving mostly larger jets. With the exception of well heeled Honda, which continues to back the delayed HondaJet program, and Cessna, which keeps finding unserved Citation niches, smaller jets and turboprops are attracting little or no new money and will face growing challenges to eventual entry into service.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the single-engine jet market. We’re placing two single-engine jet programs on the shelf this year, the Cirrus Vision and Piper’s Altaire. The fact that no Western investor was willing to pick up the pieces of Cirrus before it was sold to China’s Caiga last year signals that the financial world sees little motivation to put money into small airplanes. Whether Caiga will follow through with bringing the Vision jet to market remains to be seen, but the company seems to be focusing its Cirrus energies on the piston market for now. In that market, too, Caiga enjoys an advantage because it also owns Continental Motors, the manufacturer of the Cirrus SR20’s and SR22’s engines. (Correction: AVIC International Holding Company owns Continental Motors, and, according to Continental Motors president Rhett Ross, “they are two separate operating units with separate missions and management.  [Continental Motors] and Cirrus do not share any common management or parental affiliations. Further, we do not share any activities that would involve product strategy or business outside of those involved in the typical vendor/customer relationship.”)AIN 2012 Forecast

Piper’s Altaire, which was promoted heavily at last year’s NBAA show following an extensive redesign, is now officially off the table. We attribute this to the unfortunate circumstance that the Altaire’s price, at $2.5 million, was rapidly nearing the cost of a new twin-engine jet. While the Altaire offered fairly good performance, what killed the program was not the lack of owner-pilot buyers, but the fact that few corporations would send their top executives flying on a single-engine jet when twin-engine jets are available for very little more money.

The one single-engine jet program nearing entry into service is Diamond’s D-Jet, which recently regained front-burner status after Diamond sold its Canadian division to Middle East investment firm Medrar Financial. Diamond has rehired personnel that it had to let go last year when money ran out, and the D-Jet remains the nearest single-engine jet to certification and may yet make it into service. If that happens, the aviation industry will find out if there is indeed a market for single-engine jets.

Dreams of Supersonic Flight

On the opposite end of the performance scale are the proposed supersonic jet programs, joined this year by a new one, HyperMach Aerospace’s SonicStar. HyperMach now says the SonicStar will be capable of Mach 4 speeds, which means a 2:20 flight time from New York to Dubai, much quicker than the Supersonic Aerospace QSST or the Aerion SSBJ.Airplanes on the shelf

We don’t like to rain on any parades, but aerospace historically has been intolerant of envelope-pushing technology when it comes to certifying a product that is intended to carry passengers efficiently on a regular basis. The problem is that the more technologically advanced the aircraft, the faster the curve climbs for the amount of money needed to ensure safety, reliability and efficiency. Supersonic business jets are starting at the $80 million per airplane mark, and the list price will surely rise rapidly from that initial amount.

Is there enough development money to support any supersonic business jet program? Will we ever see a production supersonic business jet? We believe that it’s highly unlikely, but as always, we’re also holding out hope that dreams will come true.

Meanwhile, the money is flowing into airplanes with more solid prospects, large-cabin, ultra-long-range jets, super-midsize jets and some lighter jets and turboprops. These are all fairly normal airplane designs, and it has been proven time and again that normal airplanes with improvements in performance, comfort and operating costs over their predecessors are far more successful in the aviation marketplace in the long run.