Despite the fact that global economic woes have flooded news outlets with stunning regularity over the past couple of years, last month’s NBAA convention in Las Vegas was refreshingly upbeat. Truth be told, I don’t think anyone in the business aviation industry believes that the fate of the economy and bizjet sales will turn around in a matter of weeks. However the signs are there that, though a slow recovery, a recovery is nonetheless around the corner and this year’s NBAA convention was the first one in a couple of years where I saw more optimism from participants.
Most estimates that I have reviewed over the past year appear to be in line with GE’s own, which is reassuring. Broadly speaking, they indicate that the bizjet industry will experience an almost linear growth starting in 2012 and crossing the 1000-annual-deliveries threshold in the 2015-2017 timeframe (from the current sub-700 units). Furthermore, growth is expected to be steady enough that a total of 10,000 deliveries are projected in the next decade.
Positive atmosphere aside, some of the announcements and updates at NBAA appeared to reflect the ongoing upward momentum:
- Gulfstream confirmed that entry into market for their G280 and G650 models is scheduled for this year and the start of next year, respectively
- Embraer is continuing its climb into the upper echelons of the bizjet world with the Legacy 450 and 500 programs
- Bombardier provided further updates on the Lear 85 program, which will constitute a nice bridge to their Challenger lineup
- Lastly, but certainly not least, Cessna made the surprise announcement of the Latitude, only a short period after the M2 program had been officially unveiled.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the hopes for the so-called “personal jet” segment appear to have been dealt another blow. It was just last year at NBAA Atlanta that the Piper Jet had been renamed and respec-ed amongst much fanfare, yet, as I write this post, the Altaire program has been put indefinitely on hold. With similar platforms from Diamond and Cirrus having been delayed, it appears that the dream of flying these innovative aircraft will have to wait at least until the middle of this decade. Until then, those users will be looking either in the direction of Eclipse Aerospace or turboprop manufacturers (newcomer Kestrel certainly appears to be well positioned in that regard).
The thought on everyone’s mind, though, was how to position one’s firm to reap the benefit of the seemingly endless hunger for business aircraft coming from China. The country appears to be poised to fill a considerable portion of the order books for ultra-long range aircraft, as the word “Trans-Pacific” becomes commonplace. It will be interesting to follow the competition at the top (7X, Global 7000/8000, G650), as OEMs try to meet the increasing demand. While a desire for aircraft is indeed important, equally relevant indicators of the growth rate in China will be its ability to cut much of the existing regulatory red tape and build an adequate infrastructure of MROs, smaller airports and FBOs: I remain optimistic.
And if Las Vegas was any indication of things to come, we can all already start looking forward to next year’s gathering in Orlando. See you there.