NBAA special

NBAA static

© NBAA

 

The world's largest business aviation gathering - the National Business Aviation Association convention - will open its doors in Las Vegas, Nevada, on 10 October to an industry still reeling from the worst economic downturn in living memory.

Three years after the Lehman Brothers collapse kick-started the catastrophic global financial crisis, the US industry is still in the doldrums, hampered by low consumer demand and market confidence - particularly at the bottom end of the market.

"Business aviation in the US reflects the broader economy," says Ed Bolen, president of NBAA.

"If the economy is weak, business aviation demand is weak. Of course the economy is not as strong as we would like, but at least there is growth - not robust growth, but growth all the same."

Despite the growing importance of international markets such as Brazil, China and ­Russia, the USA, with an installed base fleet of more than 17,800 business aircraft, is still by far the largest market for business jets and turboprops.

'HARD, FAST AND BAD'

"That is why its recovery is so vital to the industry, particularly the lighter end of the aircraft spectrum," says aerospace consultant George Tsopeis.

"The collapse of this sector is testament to how hard, fast and bad the recession was in 2008," continues Tsopeis, who is also vice-president, business operations, at US aircraft sales and charter company Zenith Jet.

"Light jet demand is tied to the North American market and we won't see a return to the lofty pre-2008 delivery levels [until] at least 2016, when the US market has fully recovered," he adds.

North american biz jet sales 

Pete Bunce, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), agrees. "The fortunes of this industry are so closely tied to the overall recovery of the US economy," he says. "Recently, the country's growth was lowered to 1.5%, which is not a good harbinger for GA industry, which has already lost around 20,000 jobs."

Fellow aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia suggests the US business aviation market should be faring better.

"With corporate profits at an all-time high, there is the prospect of the proverbial demand floodgates opening up, with a double-digit uptick that we've seen in previous market recoveries," he says.

Aboulafia points to a recent Federal Reserve finding which revealed "non-financial" companies are holding $2 trillion in cash and liquid assets. "This means they are keeping a record 7.1% of all company assets in cash," he says.

"The earnings fundamentals are there to make this recovery happen. Perhaps it's just a question of recovery psychology among the large corporations," he adds.

PUNITIVE PROPOSALS

Bunce and Bolen believe the sluggish recovery of the US business aviation industry has been exacerbated by the Obama administration and its anti-business aircraft agenda.

"People's confidence that a full recovery will be a reality in the near-term has been held in check by disparaging comments and punitive policy proposals emanating from Washington," says Bolen. Consider, he says, the Department of Transportation's decision to "eliminate" the Blocked Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) programme, "which allows companies using business aviation to opt out of having flights tracked by terrorists, cyber-stalkers, paparazzi, criminals, business competitors or anyone else with an internet connection".

"The GA community has been joined by business groups, privacy advocates and a host of congressional lawmakers in pointing out that these changes would represent an invasion of privacy of aircraft operators, a threat to the competitiveness of US companies and a potential security risk to the persons aboard the aircraft," Bolen says.

"Nevertheless, DoT is pressing ahead and NBAA continues to challenge the plan in court and on Capitol Hill." Bolen singles out President Obama's "appalling" attempts to vilify the industry and target companies using business aircraft for punitive treatment.

"He has repeatedly denigrated business aviation, apparently to make his case for adjusting aircraft depreciation schedules to help close the federal government's budget deficit," Bolen says.

USER-FEES FIASCO

Bunce is equally scathing. "This administration is schizophrenic," he says. "Obama says he needs to build up tax revenues but he attacks an industry that has been pumping a lot of tax revenues into the system for years.

"He says he wants to create jobs and yet he vilifies an industry that creates and supports millions of jobs.

"We have sent a number of invitations to the president asking him to see the business aircraft industry first-hand so he can have a better understanding of our industry. We have had no response to date."

While public pummelling by high-profile politicians has angered and frustrated the US industry, it regards the renewed talk of user fees as its greatest threat.

The US government recently announced plans to impose a $100 user fee for every flight by business jet. Bolen dismisses this as "ill-conceived and counterproductive".

Ed Bolen

© Billypix

NBAA president Ed Bolen calls Obama's attitude towards business aviation "appalling"

"GA currently pays through an efficient per-gallon fuel charge at the pump," he says. "This plan would create an onerous new administrative burden and necessitate the creation of a costly new fee-collection bureaucracy."

This will no doubt be one of the many hot topics at the 64th NBAA Convention which takes place from 10 to 12 October.

Despite the fiscal gloom, large numbers of exhibitors have committed to the three-day event. "NBAA is the bright spot on the air show calendar for the business aviation industry," says Tsopeis.

"Every facet of the industry attends - big and small companies to associations and regulators. Even though budgets are tight, exhibiting at this show is a price worth paying."

Its location this year in Las Vegas, party capital of the world, should help boost visitor numbers - a welcome fillip for the struggling industry. Many companies have been pushing for NBAA to return to this high-profile destination to lure potential and existing customers. The event has been shared during the past six years between Atlanta, Georgia, and Orlando, Florida.

"This is the first time we have been on the west coast since 2004," Bolen says. "We plan to be back in Vegas in 2013 and 2015."

Flight International 4 October 2011

Through the storm: Amid turbulent times, business aircraft OEMs are forecasting a a brighter new tomorrow. Our NBAA show preview assesses the business aviation market to find out why. Also don't miss our exclusive Cessna Citation CJ4 cutaway poster.

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