General aviation fixed-wing shipments and billings predictably dropped across the board in 2020 thanks to the pandemic, with business jet deliveries the hardest hit, down by 20.4 percent, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) reported on Wednesday. However, pockets of the market fared better—piston deliveries were off by just 0.9 percent—leading to an overall decline of 9.7 percent in GA airplane deliveries and 14.8 percent in billings on the year. In all, the industry shipped 2,399 fixed-wing aircraft valued at $20 billion in 2020, compared with 2,658 valued at $23.5 billion a year earlier
On the rotorcraft side, total deliveries fell 17.7 percent to 674, while billings declined 16.2 percent to $2.7 billion. This compares with 819 civil rotorcraft shipped and $3.2 billion in billings in 2019. (Leonardo has not yet reported its year-end totals and is not included in the current year-end comparisons.)
During 2020, manufacturers handed over 644 business jets, compared with 809 a year earlier. Most business-jet OEMs saw deliveries slide on the year—Bombardier was down 28 units, Gulfstream (-20), Dassault (-6), Embraer (-23), Textron Aviation (-74), and Honda Aircraft (-1). Cirrus saw deliveries of its SF50 single-engine jet, which has become the most delivered jet airplane annually, slide by eight units, to 73. Pilatus, still ramping up on its PC-24 light jet program, saw deliveries tick up a unit to 41.
The decline in the business jet segment, however, was better than the original predictions of a 25 percent-plus drop, “so it's getting much better,” said GAMA chairman Nicolas Chabbert, who is senior v-p of Daher's Aircraft division and CEO of Daher Aircraft and Kodiak Aircraft.
As for turboprops, deliveries dropped 15.6 percent from 525 in 2019, to 443 last year. Billings were down 17.7 percent to $1.4 billion. The single-engine turboprops had a slightly stronger year, down 11 percent.
Pilatus fared strongly on this end as well with just a single unit drop to 82 PC-12s on the year. Deliveries of Daher’s TBM and Kodiak single turboprops, meanwhile, were down 15, to 53, in 2020. Textron Aviation saw its King Air deliveries slide by 31 units, to 62.
But during a pandemic when general aviation private flying continued as other types of other operations slowed or ceased, piston aircraft deliveries proved more resilient, down just 12 units, to 1,312. Textron Aviation’s Skyhawk buffered that decline, with deliveries almost doubling from 126 in 2019 to 241 last year.
Billings for the segment dipped 7.3 percent to $716 million. Chabbert noted that for the sixth year in a row, Asia-Pacific was second only behind the North American market for piston aircraft demand. This demand highlights the need for pilot training, he said, adding this bodes well for continued market strength there in the future.
The need for pilots is still high, he said, noting that student starts were actually up 3 percent in the U.S. in 2020 with almost 50,000 students.
2020 also saw the first electric aircraft certified, the two-seat Pipestral Velis Electro, Chabbert noted.
As for helicopters, piston shipments slid 20.7 percent to 142 units, while turbine shipments were down 16.9 percent to 532 units. Airbus Helicopters deliveries were off by 13 units, to 287, while Bell experienced a 61-unit decline, to 140. Robinson, meanwhile, handed over 19 fewer aircraft in 2020, for a total of 177. Its R66 turbine helicopter held steady at 54 deliveries in both 2019 and 2020.
“As expected, in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic negatively impacted general aviation and stifled the industry’s growth,” said GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce. He was encouraged that signs point to strong demand for general aviation products and services and that demand rebounded in the fourth quarter but remains concerned the market is “unfortunately being constrained by pandemic-induced supply chain limitations and a vast array of disjointed barriers to air travel across national borders.”
Looking forward to this year, he said, “It will be important for the general aviation industry to work together with our commercial sector colleagues to keep our interlinked but very fragile supply chain secure, while continuing to engage global regulatory authorities to leverage their mutually recognized safety competencies to keep pace with accelerating technological innovations that improve aviation safety and environmental sustainability and facilitate industry recovery.”
Chabbert also pointed to constraints associated with the pandemic, including supply chain issues and restrictions. But he said the 2020 results “are not representing the level of demand, which remains very high. Our industry is resilient. I am very optimistic for 2021.”