Cessna, Gulfstream fates illustrate disparate market

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Although Cessna and Gulfstream both showed positive performance in third-quarter financial reports, the difference in book-to-fill ratios and backlog for the two airframers points to a continued deep divide in the market.

Whereas Gulfstream's large cabin aircraft backlog continues to be in what company officials consider the sweet spot of 18-24 months, Cessna, which specialises in the light to midsize business jet segment, is working quarter to quarter.

"It's going to remain a bit of a spot market," said Scott Donnelly, chief executive of Cessna parent company Textron, during the 19 October 3Q earnings call with analysts. "We are taking orders and converting them into sales inside of a quarter or two. We're not back in the world where people lined up to place orders for aircraft that are two, three or four years away."

gulfstream g650 production, gulfstream

 © Gulfstream

Gulfstream's large cabin aircraft backlog continues to be in what company officials consider the sweet spot of 18-24 months 

Donnelly is happy with the company's performance despite the lack of long-term insurance. Revenues increased by $236 million year-over-year and profit in the quarter was $33 million compared to a loss of $31 million in the third quarter of 2010. Helping revenue and profit was a "favourable mix" of the 47 aircraft delivered in the quarter, up from 26 in the same quarter of 2010. Cessna continues to maintain that it will likely achieve "a slight increase in deliveries" this year over the 178 business jets delivered in 2010, barring any further economic hiccups. An increase would signal a reversal of the downward trend from 2009 onwards following a decade of fairly consistent rising output. At the peak in 2008, Cessna delivered 466 business jets, dropping down to 289 in 2009, according to General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) statistics.

Donnelly says the book-to-bill ratio at Cessna remains below 1, but could potentially rise to 1 in the fourth quarter, a trend that would lead to more backlog in the future if it continues.

By contrast, Gulfstream's book-to-bill ratio for its signature large cabin aircraft is a strong 1.5 and its $18.6 billion backlog has the company working at sustainable rates for another 18-24 months. The backlog includes more than 200 of the new $65 million G650 ultra long-range business jets for which the company expects to receive provisional certification in November, followed by entry into service in the second quarter 2012.

Jay Johnson, chief executive of Gulfstream parent General Dynamics, reported sales of $1.4 billion in the third quarter, an increase from the second quarter. Although the Asia-Pacific region accounts for 50% of its third-quarter order book, Johnson says Gulfstream is seeing a "gradual return" of the Fortune 500 customers from North America.

cessna citation cj4, cessna

 © Cessna

Cessna, which specialises in the light to midsize business jet segment, is working quarter to quarter

Assuming it receives provisional certification for the G650 this month as planned, Gulfstream says it will deliver 10-12 G650s and a total of 80 large cabin jets this year, along with 15-20 of its mid-cabin G150 and G200 jets. Like Cessna, Gulfstream saw a plunge in its smaller aircraft deliveries after the downturn, dropping from 68 deliveries in 2008 to 19 in 2009. The company delivered 24 of its midsize aircraft in 2010, according the GAMA figures.

Johnson also reported that the new $24 million G280 midsize jet, which will ultimately replace the G200, will be delayed somewhat due to needed "software upgrades". In October, Gulfstream had said the G280 would enter into service this year following Israeli and US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification. Johnson said only Israel certification will occur this year, with the FAA nod and entry into service coming in the "first part of 2012".