Despite a softening U.S. economy and soaring fuel prices, demand for business jets and turboprops is still surging, according to the first-half delivery report from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA).
The trade group announced a record-setting first six months of the year, with total industry shipments 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. “I think that we see it especially in countries like Russia that have a lot of energy dollars or if you go into the Middle East or in the Caspian Sea basin area, the energy wealth that is going in there is translating into businesses being able to purchase aircraft to be able to stimulate more business. They are finding a lot of utility for the business tool that a turboprop or a turbine airplane can give you, and so I think that has been spurring the market quite a bit.”
Leading the charge was the business jet category, where deliveries rose nearly 40 percent over the same period last year, equating to a record 663 aircraft delivered.
The sector was buoyed by the troubled Eclipse aviation, which despite delays in reaching full production levels nonetheless delivered 112 EA-500 VLJ’s during the first half of the year, a rate which will most likely dip in the second half as the company attempts to reorganize. Though newcomer Eclipse took the lead for deliveries of a single model, old hands such as Cessna delivered more airplanes across their product lines.
While nearly every business jet airframer experienced a double-digit increase in output, Cessna saw its first-half tally rise from 163 aircraft last year to a record 213 so far this year, spurred in part by its boosting Citation Mustang VLJ production from 10 to 34 aircraft. Bombardier doubled Learjet 60 output to 16 aircraft in the first half of this year.
While not as strong, the turboprop market also experienced solid growth, with an overall increase 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.
Bunce said he believes the rest of the year should provide similar numbers. “We’re optimistic for the second-half of the year. Of course when you are looking at deliveries, you’re talking about orders that were made in the turbine category well over a year ago and in some cases two years ago. The order books have been very solid, so we anticipate that the second half will be very good.”
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.
“If we can continue to get some downward pressure on fuel that will be a very good thing because we’re watching the decrease in flight activity from our operators,” said Bunce. “That’s got us concerned in that people are flying less across the board. So as the price begins to come back down, hopefully that trend will continue and we can see the flight hours going back up.”