Private Jets – Top-end aviation is going through a rough patch

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In the first half of the year, Dassault Aviation delivered 45 twin and tri-jets of the Falcon business jet family, but during the same period only received two new orders. This strong negative shift underscores the serious crisis in the high-end business jet market due to the recession and serious deterioration of the sector’s image.
The problem goes back to the beginning of general aviation and the emergence of the first private aircraft which were presented as valuable business tool. But nowadays, whether it’s a single-engine Daher Socata TBM 850 or a Falcon 7 X, a small Cessna Citation, or an imposing GulfStream, at the first sign of an economic downturn, there is always someone, either a frustrated shareholder or critic of any supposedly useless business expense, ready to criticize the deployment of any bizjet. When any belt tightening starts, such expenditures usually get crossed off the list before anything else.
Business aviation, which is nonetheless the symbol of efficiency in a world obsessed with ultra-fast ROI, absolute productivity and dedicated captains of industry, does not get good press as soon as the economic situation shows the slightest signs of weakness. This has been demonstrated once again over the last eighteen months. The latest statistics established by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association of America confirm this in detail. Thus, in the second quarter of 2010, for all categories combined, manufacturers have delivered 949 aircraft, ranging from the small Piper arrow to the Embraer Legacy 600, marking a historic low point.
Charles Edelstenne, CEO of Dassault Aviation, said that “the market has not recovered, it is just starting to bottom out.” Moreover, the level of deliveries is misleading since the order books are emptying out. American aircraft manufacturers have recently laid off workers en masse, and are closing plants until better days return. But the situation is only likely to improve in tiny increments, particularly since recovery will depend for most part on the US market, which accounts for the biggest share of the market, but at the same time has been the most badly hit.
The global fleet, excluding commercial aviation, totals 320,000 private aircraft, including 228,000 registered in the United States. Strictly speaking, the aviation business has always been dominated by the US, although the statistics are less accurate than in the past because of the strong growth in shared ownership, which has experienced growing popularity among private jet owners, and easily crosses borders.
At the upper end of the market, the dominance of US industrialists has been demonstrated in the statistics year after year. Dassault Aviation is an exception, thanks to strong local presence. Bombardier made a breakthrough some time ago, and more recently, Embraer has achieved some success, while the English have given up, their Hawker (whose roots go back to de Havilland) having been taken over by Beechcraft. Others have also withdrawn, for example the Japanese (Mitsubishi) and Israel (IAI).
In fact, general aviation over all has decreased over the years, in terms of “private” aviation However, “business” aviation has steadily progressed. The figures speak for themselves: in the heyday of 1966, US industrialists delivered 15,768 private airplanes, prior to beginning a slow decline. It’s not that airplanes have become less popular, but rather this is due to problems involving the extremely high financial risks related to civil liability. Economic ups and downs have done the rest, and paradoxically, now it’s better to put high-end business jets on the market, rather than small leisure aircraft. Cessna, the historical leader, provides a good illustration of this image of this contradictory development. Last year, the well-known Wichita industrialist shipped over 300 Citation twin-jets but is struggling to maintain the 172 and 182 models which made its name. As a sign of the times, Cessna’s latest entry, the SkyCatcher, is produced in China – a fact which can’t help but generate some disappointment.
Pierre Sparaco-AeroMorning
Translated by Tim Bowler

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