Record orders and deliveries, fast-growing, young export markets, production
schedules stretching to the middle of next decade: why on Earth should business
aviation manufacturers be worried?
Last week's National Business Aviation Association convention in Atlanta saw
an industry in robust mood - halls packed with exhibitors and visitors, voices
of eastern Europe, central Asia and Latin America mingling with New Jersey and
Texas accents. For an industry wallowing in post-9/11 misery four years ago,
life could hardly be better.
However, listen and you can hear warning bells.
This NBAA was the quietest for new programme launches for years. Why? Because
manufacturers are up to their ears in backlogs and many have new aircraft on
drawing boards ready to excite the market when the next expected downturn
arrives around 2012.
But if the US debt crisis spirals into a global credit crunch, the predicted
soft landing could become a nasty crash, happening earlier and lasting longer.
If that is the case, the sexy new programmes manufacturers will need to
stimulate demand may not be ready.
Add to that the environment. In western Europe -and a lesser extent North
America - tax-threatened airlines and greens, in unholy alliance, are doing
their best to convince public and politicians that private aviation is wasteful
of resources. At the convention, there was talk of carbon-offsetting. But a
naivety about its impact on the planet still pervades an industry which is,
after all, about supplying fast and exclusive transport to the world's
Finally, a problem of the industry's own making. Bulging orderbooks are
putting a strain on the supply chain, assembly lines and completion centres.
There is not capacity to meet demand. It's a nice problem, but how long before
customers sicken of waiting eight years for a business jet?
A little "market correction" may not be a bad thing. What is certain is that
this level of hyper activity is not sustainable. The industry must hope that,
when it comes, the descent is gentle and controlled, and not a headlong plunge
into the unknown.
AirSpace - more than just hot air