Business & private aviation : still a flourishing market

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I am not sure that everyone will agree with me on this one, because private planes have not been selling well for some years. Not least in Europe where flaunting one’s wealth can be frowned on.
And yet we have recently seen the benefits that private aviation can draw from the economic difficulties striking certain countries like Greece.
This was a country in which the United States had placed its full confidence when the Kennedy clan authorised the former “First Lady”, Jackie Kennedy, to marry a Greek ship-owner, Aristotle Onassis. Are we really to believe that she used regular airlines to travel to and from her two countries? I must admit to not actually having checked this out, but I’m willing to venture a “no”.
To cut a long story short, a number of American ex-pats likewise had almost unlimited faith in Greece, choosing to place their investments in the country. But the last weeks have put this faith sorely to the test and some have not hesitated to take off in private aircraft for another El Dorado.
There will always be a more or less flourishing market for private aviation then. Admittedly this market is strewn with obstacles, of which economic factors are only one element. During the 2008 crisis, which hit the American car industry particularly hard, the business leaders of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler made a very bad impression when they arrived in their own private aircraft to seek financial assistance from the White House, proving that such “indignation” is not the preserve of Europe. It was also the chosen means of transport for the current French president to fly from his Tulle constituency to Paris on the evening of his election in May 2012.
Why all these reminders, you might ask? Quite simply because business/private aircraft not only project an image of luxury, but they also enable world leaders to travel from one point of the globe to another without being bothered by the kind of constraints that “traditional” air transport users put up with, whether for business or pleasure trips.
All those who work in companies manufacturing or supplying parts for business aircraft are well aware that this aeronautical sector has a promising future, although the study just published by Frost & Sullivan claims the large business aircraft sector and its production rates will remain stable in coming years.
This analyst has put the global market for business aircraft in 2014 at 24.55 billion dollars, a figure which includes sales turnover from France’s top-of-the-range business aircraft manufacturer, Dassault Aviation, which rose to 2,685 M€ last year. Early this year, Dassault Aviation reported that aircraft orders outstripped deliveries in 2014 (by a ratio of 1.26), putting this down to the success encountered by its new Falcon 5X and Falcon 8X. In a week’s time, the company will present its balance sheet for the first six months of 2015. Only a few days then before we learn whether the aircraft manufacturer can confirm this resurgence in orders for business aircrafts (90 aircraft sold in 2014 as against 64 in 2013).
According to Frost & Sullivan, it is the mid-range or even light aircraft that stand to gain the most from this market revival and overall economic recovery, rather than Airbus and Boeing’s customised aircraft, respectively the ACJ (Airbus Corporate Jet) and BBJ (Boeing Business Jet). Last February, having updated its study of the world’s billionaires, Airbus reported sales of 170 ACJ planes since its launch, with a roughly equal share of sales between groups/companies, governments and individual owners. According to Frost & Sullivan, the charter market, based on leasing or shared propriety, should be hit by budgetary restrictions imposed not only by groups/companies, but also governments.
Obviously the progression will not be as spectacular as for commercial aviation, but experts consider that the market should increase from 24.55 billion dollars in 2014 to 27.94 billion dollars in 2020.
And the main driving force will be technology, as illustrated by Dassault Aviation’s renewal of its range with its Falcon 5X and Falcon 8X. Gulfstream is likewise bringing out its G500 and G600, following on from its long-haul G650. This is not the case though for Bombardier which, although predicting a fine future for business aviation, is suffering from a gap in funding due to the difficulties of its commercial CSeries aircraft, at the same time experiencing delays in the test programmes and thus certification of its newly launched Global 6000 and Global 7000. Delays incidentally that must not be to the taste of French group Stelia, which contributes to these major programmes.
The small world of business aviation also includes Cessna and Hawker, now both subsidiary companies of the Textron group. And it would be a mistake to overlook the Brazilian Embraer, with its Phenom and Legacy ranges. Admittedly these Embraer aircraft are not in the “ultra long-range” category held by Gulfstream, Bombardier and Dassault, but they achieve an operating range of 10,000 km nonetheless.
But all these facts could hide a larger picture: private aviation has a very healthy future based on emerging economies such as Asia and particularly China.
These regions would simply need to agree to open their air traffic to this type of private transport, thus eliminating the main brake on the explosion of this market. This is still a problem for the “private” helicopter market, prohibited in many countries for reasons of national security. The advent of drones should obviously change things and lead to the opening of “air borders” to private aviation.
Nicole Beauclair for Aeromorning

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