Still around the corner

This first appeared as a Comment in the 28 May issue of Flight International

Market cycle reality is an easy thing to forget amid the euphoria of a trade show. Curtains lift to reveal new products. Whispers roam the exhibition halls conjuring secret designs and strategies yet to be announced. It all seems not just like the good times are possibly lurking around the corner, but that a full-on recovery is inevitable.

Then you step out of the Palexpo convention hall and into the teeth of a chilly sub-Alpine drizzle in late spring, and face a rude awakening to bring you back to reality.

By any post-2007 standard, EBACE was a good show. It offers a prime opportunity for the industry to present its best face to a stubbornly depressed European market, and the major players tried hard not to disappoint.

Pilatus Aircraft, the hometown hero, launched Switzerland’s first jet development project since Bill Lear acquired the design of the FFA P-16 fighter, migrated it to Wichita, Kansas, and transformed it into the iconic Learjet 23. The newly-unveiled PC-24 twinjet has a proud heritage to live up to.

A few stands away, box office star John Travolta was on hand to serenade the Bombardier Challenger 350, only one day after the re-engined and updated super-midsize jet was revealed to the public. Outside, on the static display, Bombardier’s Learjet 75 was making its EBACE debut. It was stationed near Embraer’s Legacy 500, also making its first appearance in Geneva while the programme is still deep in certification mode. 

So EBACE had it all: celebrities, product launches and debut appearances of new jets.

The only thing that is missing now in some sectors of the industry is a market recovery. As active as the event appeared, the orders, announcements and celebrity flair still paled in comparison to the industry’s golden years of roughly 2005-2007, before the financial crisis briefly halted the progress of the large cabin jet market and decimated demand for very light jets, light jets and, to a slightly lesser degree, midsize aircraft.

So far, there are only mere hints in the data to suggest a sustained recovery is coming, but even most of these are the same clues that market analysts have been pointing to for more than two years – to no avail.

By consolidating, launching new products and creating “buzz”, the industry is doing all the right things, even five years into a market downcycle for smaller aircraft that has been longer and deeper than anyone predicted. The NBAA convention is again in Las Vegas this year. Maybe the industry’s luck will reappear, too.

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