Business aviation data provider JetNet is fairly optimistic about the state of the business jet market, but sees some warning signs on the horizon, the company said in a state of the business aviation market presentation on Tuesday at EBACE 2019. While GDP has long been associated with business jet usage, JetNet v-p of sales Paul Cardarelli said his company's analysts have noted a bit of decoupling in GDP growth between the U.S., which has been above 3 percent for the past two quarters, and the Euro Area, which has remained flat at 1.2 percent for that span. Cardarelli placed some of the blame on the protracted drama of Brexit, which is estimated to be impacting the UK economy by £19 billion a year, among other factors.
He noted that the business jet fleet remains “geographically concentrated,” with approximately 61 percent of the world’s business jet fleet based in the U.S., and that the 22,138 business aircraft in service today had 4.5 million cycles in 2018. The last time the fleet was at that level of utilization was around 2005, when the in-service fleet numbered approximately 14,000.
“So we’re about one-third more aircraft than we were in ’05, and yet we’re operating about the same number of cycles,” Cardarelli noted. “This is one of the things that gives us some concern. We have an oversupply situation and we have underutilization going on.”
Another metric of the health of the market lies in the preowned segment. An inventory of less than 10 percent of in-service aircraft is considered by many as indicative of a seller's market and, as of the end of March, the numbers according to JetNet’s data were 9.3 percent for business jets and 6.7 percent for turboprops, the lowest levels since before the global economic downturn.
Yet, the company noted there were 513 retail jet sale or lease transaactions in the first quarter, compared to 641 a year ago—marking a year-over-year decrease of nearly 20 percent. Cardarelli attributes the discrepancy to a variety of reasons, including the partial U.S. government shutdown in January and stock market turbulence. Another factor could be the limited choice in the marketplace as buyers finally jumped in at the bottom of the market and have removed most of the choice aircraft.
On the new aircraft side, all five of the major business jet airframers have shown an increase in backlogs in the first quarter, an aggregate 5.5 percent rise, with book-to-bill ratios all above one while Embraer and Bombardier are approaching two. “We feel good about that—that’s a good metric for the industry,” said Cardarelli. “We’re always conservative at iQ, we do want to call them as we see them, but we’re actually bullish, particularly for the OEMs."
Since 2011, JetNet iQ has conducted its quarterly surveys gathering 500 responses in each for approximately 17,000 results from 132 countries. JetNet iQ founder Rollie Vincent shared the latest data from the company’s second quarter survey, which is 85 percent complete. The survey asks respondents to describe the current market conditions for business aviation as either not yet at the low point, at the low point, or past the low point, and establishes a net optimism score by subtracting the first number from the last.
In the second half of last year, that number hovered around 50 percent, but plummeted to 27 percent in the first quarter of this year, and with the majority of responses received for the second quarter, optimism seems to have eroded further to 24 percent. In North America, more than 50 percent of the respondents either somewhat or strongly believe there is increasing risk for a global economic slowdown in the next 12 months, while in Europe that rate exceeded 70 percent.
“It’s all across the market, the mood has changed,” said Vincent. “We think this is a caution sign, and it’s going to affect preowned sales first, which we think are coming down.” Also in Europe, nearly 60 percent of the respondents believe to some degree that uncertainty over Brexit has affected their aviation activities.
The survey typically asks respondents several topical perception questions, and among them this quarter was if they are experiencing difficulties recruiting and retaining aviation-related staff. In North America and Europe, 77 percent and 67 percent agreed from somewhat to strongly that they were, adding more evidence of an industry-wide talent shortage.
Asked about their belief that all their aircraft would be ADS-B-compliant by the Dec. 31, 2019 deadline in the U.S., enough respondents indicated strongly that they would not, leading the company to speculate that thousands of aircraft could be affected. That could perhaps to a long overdue mass retirement of aging aircraft, Vincent said.
For the first time in eight years of surveys, JetNet noted the percentage of intent to purchase light jets, which had been as low as 11 percent, has finally exceeded 30 percent, meaning a long-awaited improvement in the segment is under way, fueled by the Pilatus PC-24. That aircraft model earned the most responses to the question “what model were you most interested in for your next purchase?,” beating out the popular Gulfstream G500, G650/650ER and Bombardier Challenger 350 over the past three surveys.
Vincent updated the company’s 10-year forecast to 7,100 jet deliveries worth $237 billion through 2028. For the first time, the company included the category of supersonic business jets (SSBJ), which he expects will make an appearance sometime around 2026. Based on the survey results, more than 75 percent of the respondents in North America, and nearly 50 percent of those in Europe, believe to some degree that SSBJs will be in service in the next decade.