Business and general aviation fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter deliveries edged upward across the board last year, marking the first time since 2013 that all shipment categories showed improvement, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) reported today during its annual State of the Industry update.
Worldwide fixed-wing airplane shipments increased 4.7 percent overall from 2,325 units in 2017 to 2,443 last year. Piston and turbine helicopter deliveries, meanwhile, combined for a 5.4 percent increase from 926 in 2017 to 976 in 2018. Since Leonardo Helicopters has not yet reported its full-year results, GAMA adjusted the yearly comparisons to reflect totals through three quarters for this manufacturer.
While shipments experienced modest increases uniformly, billing results were mixed last year: fixed-wing billings inched up 1.5 percent to $20.6 billion, but those for rotorcraft dipped by about $100 million, or 0.7 percent, to $3.6 billion.
And even though 2013 was also uniformly up, Jens Hennig, vice president of operations for GAMA, said such results are rare and added that with 2018, “It’s a good news story.”
“New certifications over the last two years, especially in the lighter jet segments, as well as demand in North America are driving the business jet shipment increase,” said GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce, of the total results. “This is also the second consecutive year in which shipments of piston and turbine rotorcraft are up, driven by the introduction of new models to the market.”
Ramp-ups on the newest light-jet entrants provided a boost to the business jet sector. It also was indicative of the smaller increase in billings overall. Business jet deliveries climbed by 3.8 percent from 677 in 2017 to 703 last year. The $2 million Cirrus Vision Jet led all jet deliveries, reaching 63 last year, its second full year of deliveries. New to the turbine market, Cirrus had handed over 22 of the jet singles in 2017. Another new player in the business jet sector was Pilatus, which delivered its first 18 PC-24s last year.
They offset a small dip in another still relative newcomer to market, Honda Aircraft, which reported six fewer HondaJet deliveries in 2018, for a total of 37. While down from recent years, Embraer remains a prolific producer of its Phenom light jets, with the Model 100 and 300 combining for a total of 64 deliveries.
Cessna’s Citation Latitude remains its top seller this year, with 57 shipped, up by three units. But its CJ3+, CJ4, and XLS+ lines all saw increases, offsetting drops in Sovereign+ and M2 deliveries, as well as the elimination of the Mustang.
Bombardier’s $26 million Challenger 350, meanwhile, not only led super-midsize deliveries but was the most delivered twin-engine business jet, with 60 handed over. This was up from 56 in 2017.
Last year also marked the beginning of deliveries of higher-end models such as Bombardier’s Global 7500 and Gulfstream’s G500. Bombardier’s Global 5000/6000 products were down slightly to 41 deliveries (from 45 in 2017), but are awaiting the new Global 5500 and 6500 siblings that are expected to enter service later this year.
Gulfstream’s large-cabin aircraft models were up by two units, even as the mid-cabins dipped by one. Dassault now combines its delivery results, but the totals were down by eight units to 41.
While presenting uneven results in 2018, jet makers “walked away in a good position” given the products that either are coming onto the market this year or just arrived, as well as the increase in flying, Hennig said.
The turboprop market experienced the largest overall bump, up 5.2 percent to 601 units delivered in 2018 (including both pressurized and unpressurized). GAMA reported Viking—producer of the DHC-6 Series 400 Twin Otter—for the first time, counting nine deliveries for the year. But as with the helicopters, GAMA adjusted the comparisons year-over-year to include only the same manufacturers.
Textron Aviation’s King Air twin turboprops were up by eight units to 94 for the year and Piper’s M500/M600 single turboprop lines experienced a nine-aircraft bounce to 56. These offset drops from Pilatus and Daher. Utility turboprop maker Quest also saw a slide in deliveries.
Helping the turboprop market overall is global demand, said Hennig. While North America remains the dominant region at 49.8 percent, a higher percentage goes into other markets in total than do business jets and piston aircraft. “The rest of the world is very well spread out, which speaks to the broad acceptance of turboprops,” he said, noting their utilitarian capabilities worldwide.
As for the pistons, the training market continues to provide a boost. Piston aircraft manufacturers delivered 5 percent more of those aircraft in 2018 for a total of 1,139. This is up from 1,085. The Asia-Pacific region increased its market share of piston deliveries last year to 18.5 percent. This is a jump from the 13.4 percent of the pistons delivered to the region in 2017 and represents the largest share since GAMA began tracking regional breakouts a decade ago.
On the rotorcraft side, turbine deliveries improved 5 percent to 695, while pistons were up 6.4 percent, to 281 in 2018. Enstrom reported a jump in its 280FX piston deliveries to 14, up from the sole model handed over last year. Pistons led the 11-unit increase in Robinson results to 316 total deliveries.
Bell, meanwhile, dramatically ramped up its Model 505 single-turbine to 116, compared with 27 last year. Airbus Helicopters’ H125 line was up 11 units, to 136, but the manufacturer handed over 46 fewer helicopters overall in 2018, with decreases in its H145, H135, and H130 lines.
Looking forward, the manufacturers will grapple with the U.S. government shutdown for months as they work to realign their certification schedules. But, Bunce added, “We remain optimistic given recent type certifications and other certifications in the product queue that bode well for the large-airplane segment to continue its strength.” Increases in regional demands also are encouraging, he added.