Diamond Aircraft says many customers have welcomed programme delays to the D-Jet - now scheduled to receive North American certification in the first half of 2010 - because it buys them time to ride out the economic downturn. European deliveries are expected to begin around three months later.
The D-Jet - the Austrian general aviation manufacturer's first jet - has had a bumpy route to certification. Announced in 2003, and originally planned to go into service in early 2006, the aircraft flew for the first time in April that year. However, Diamond decided last year to uprate the Williams FJ33-15 engine to the -5A version and was required by the US Federal Aviation Administration to install a conventional boot de-icing system. Two FJ33-5A equipped D-Jets are being test flown in Texas.
Diamond chief executive Christian Dries says the orderbook for the D-Jet, which will be built at the company's London, Ontario plant, remains "very robust" at more than 600 aircraft. "A lot of our customers are not that unhappy [with the delay]," he says. "People do not have a lot of additional money because of the economic crisis."
Although the credit crunch and corporate slump have badly affected sales of business aircraft in the past three months - with a glut of young secondhand aircraft on the market - Dries says models such as the D-Jet could benefit. Along with rival aircraft from Cirrus and Piper - also yet to be certificated - the D-Jet is an entry-level personal jet, cheaper than very light twinjets including the Cessna Mustang, HondaJet, Embraer Phenom 100 and the now out-of-production Eclipse 500. "A lot of people will step down from bigger aircraft," he says. "I strongly expect this will happen."
Like the rest of the sector, Diamond has been hit hard after years of strong growth - it has laid off 40% of its 800-strong workforce in Weiner Neustadt, Austria and about 150 of its 800 employees in Canada. It was also forced to stop deliveries of its flagship DA42 piston twin as well as diesel-powered versions of its DA40 single when long-time supplier German engine-maker Thielert filed for insolvency early last year. However, it has now restarted production with an alternative engine - the Austro AE300 - built by its sister company Austro Engine and certificated in January.
Smart Air, the Luxembourg-based fractional ownership operator that has ordered eight D-Jets with 42 options, still expects to launch operations by summer 2010, "two or three" months later than originally planned.
Its deliveries begin with the fifty-second aircraft off the line and chief executive Stephane Ledermann says Diamond has promised to ramp up production immediately following certification to "lessen the delay".
The lag in deliveries means Smart Air - which is offering customers shares from 10% to entire aircraft - will have to "slow down a little bit" in terms of recruiting pilots, says Ledermann.