For the past two years, the business aviation industry has pondered when the oft-mentioned bottom of the trough in aircraft deliveries might actually be reached. In a recent JetNet iQ survey, half of the respondents believe deliveries have already hit bottom, while more than 25 percent see the industry as showing some upward momentum at last. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) first-half aircraft delivery numbers, released last month, suggest optimism is warranted. “We are starting to see positive signs in the 2012 shipment data,” said GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce. “When coupled with the positive trend in the used market, we may finally be seeing the start of our recovery.” During the first six months of this year, shipments of aircraft and industry billings beat the first-half-2011 numbers, with deliveries climbing by 5.9 percent and billings up by nearly a billion dollars, to more than $8.2 billion.
During the first half of this year, OEMs handed over 294 business jets, a better than 13-percent increase over the previous year as manufacturers continue to ride the momentum established in last year’s second half. Cessna ramped up its output by nearly 25 percent year-over-year, with increases in every model except the very light Citation Mustang. The Wichita airframer more than doubled its output of CJ2+s from the previous year and showed strong increases with the CJ3 and CJ4 as well.
While Learjet deliveries slowed by more than 40 percent from last year’s first half, Bombardier still beat the year-ago numbers by nearly 9 percent, thanks primarily to more Challenger 300 and 605 deliveries.
As Hawker Beechcraft works through the process of its possible sale, the business of building airplanes continues, albeit at a slower pace than a year ago. In the first six months of this year, the manufacturer delivered 16 business jets, a decline of approximately 24 percent from the previous first half. The company pared down its lineup of jets, delivering only the Premier IA, Hawker 900XP and Hawker 4000 in the first half of this year.
In Savannah, Gulfstream recorded a 13-percent decrease in deliveries year-over-year, primarily among its large-cabin offerings. The airframer no longer includes green aircraft delivered to its completions centers in its totals. The company is currently gearing up for the imminent full FAA certification of its new G650 flagship and expects to begin deliveries of completed G650s immediately thereafter. It anticipates handing over 17 of the ultra-long-range twinjets by year-end. Full FAA approval of the company’s new super-midsize G280 is also imminent at press time.
Dassault, which had streamlined its model offerings over the past year to just three types, showed the largest percentage increase in deliveries among business jet makers. The French OEM doubled deliveries of the Falcon 900LX and 2000LX and handed over 67 percent more Falcon 7Xs year-over-year. Its 34 first-half deliveries put Dassault more than halfway toward its stated goal of delivering 65 Falcons in 2012, a slight increase over its 2011 year-end total.
Embraer, led by increased deliveries of its Phenom 300, saw a modest boost in the number of jets it handed over in this year’s first half. The Brazilian manufacturer also noted an increase from 13 executive jet deliveries in the first quarter of 2012 to 20 in the second quarter, for a first-half tally of 33.
Boeing exceeded its output by 200 percent over the first half of last year, buoyed by the addition of the private version of the 747-8. The company shipped the first four to external completion centers in the first half of the year, while across the Atlantic Airbus exceeded its 2011 first-half deliveries by the addition of one ACJ318 Elite.
Turboprops Up and Down
Turboprop deliveries moved up to 243 of all types in the first half of this year from 220 in the same period last year, but pressurized models lost ground, with a nearly 24-percent decrease in deliveries year over year.
As with its business jets, Hawker Beechcraft saw a dropoff in its twin-turboprop deliveries. The world’s top turboprop manufacturer saw a 20-percent decline in the number of King Airs it handed over year-over-year, representing an eight-aircraft swing, while Pilatus also saw the number of PC-12 turboprop singles delivered decline by nearly a quarter. Italy’s Piaggio delivered just one Avanti II twin in the first six months of the year, down from three in the first half of 2011. On the plus side, Daher-Socata boosted its output of the TBM850 from 12 to 16 in the first half of this year, while Piper added one Meridian to its previous first-half total.
In previous recovery cycles piston aircraft have been in the vanguard of sales gains, but not this time–an anomaly that could possibly be explained by the evolving nature of the business. “The one thing that is much different from before is that now it’s a totally global industry,” Bunce told AIN. “The fortunes of different regions and how they are doing have great impact on the fortunes of all the companies.”
Looking toward the second half of the year, Bunce views the looming U.S. election and its aftermath as a major factor in whether the business aviation recovery will be sustained. With both wealthy individuals and businesses hesitating to spend money due to uncertainty, he believes people will be watching closely in November after the elections shake out. “If Congress can get some agreements on what’s going to happen with the federal budget, that may bode well for people to see uncertainty start to subside out there,” he said. Above all, “business wants certainty about what the future will look like.”