A cross section of industry leaders offered differing views this week at the Aero Friedrichshafen on the current state of the aviation market, with business and general aviation representatives optimistic about a slight uptick but also with a helicopter representative seeing a still-struggling market. In the future, those leaders believe the strong investment in emerging technologies is positioning the industry for long-term expansion.
Kyle Martin, director of European regulatory affairs for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), pointed to GAMA’s recent report finding delivery activity up across all general and business aviation categories and added that the association is positive about the future. While Europe has lagged behind the U.S. market, he added there is untapped growth capacity. The holdup, Martin said, is a perception issue. Europe still does not view general aviation as a means to get between two points, but rather as a recreational outlet or luxury.
At the business aviation end, Nicolas von Mende, CEO of business aviation services organization Atlas Air Service, said the European market is experiencing modest growth, but more so in Germany, home to the largest business jet fleet in Europe. But even weak growth is an improvement with a market that had zero growth just a few years ago. He called 2018 a good year, noting his own firm had sold 18 aircraft last year.
But Frank Liemand, spokesman for the German Helicopter Association, painted a different picture, pointing to ongoing woes of the offshore oil-and-gas industry, which plays a significant role in Europe. He called the market shaky and added other factors play a role in Europe, such as limitations on where helicopters can operate. Even though they have the ability to land almost anywhere, there are a number of restrictions surrounding off-airport landings, particularly in Germany, taking away from the utility of the helicopter.
In the ultralight segment, Jo Konrad, the first chairman of the German ultralight flight association, was encouraged that the long-awaited threshold increase to 600 kg for ultralights was finally put in place. This should provide a boost in the industry, opening the market to more aircraft and paving the way for existing aircraft to add safety equipment, Konrad said.
The emerging VTOL air-taxi segment is generating a lot of interest, but still has many unknowns, conceded Andreas Thellman, program manager for Airbus Urban Air Mobility. Airbus has been conducting demonstrations, as well as engaging in helicopter operations in São Paulo, Brazil, to see how such a concept could integrate into the airspace system. They are seeing possibilities, finding demand for trips in the city that are as short as just a few minutes. Thellman believes demand for the urban VTOL air-taxi concept will grow first in the mega-cities, such as Paris.
GAMA’s Martin said he was encouraged by growth in emerging technologies, such as electric and VTOL concepts, particularly in Europe. Such technologies are bringing companies that don’t typically exhibit at Aero Friedrichshafen, such as Airbus, to the show, Martin said.
Roland Bosch, head of Aero Friedrichshafen, also said he was encouraged by the growth in innovation on display at the annual event and the record number of exhibitors. He praised the investment being made to bolster the industry, saying that investment can be challenging.