EBACE: Cautious optimism from industry leaders at EBACE

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This story is sourced from Flight International
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A year ago, shell-shocked industry leaders came to EBACE determined to talk up a revival that had not begun. This time, amid increasing signs that the worst is over, the message was one of cautious optimism: better times are on their way but we may have to wait 12-18 months for full-blown recovery.

The good news from one of industry's most respected forecasters, Richard Aboulafia, was that - from 2012 - the industry could return to the sort of annual growth rates of up to 17% it enjoyed until 2008. Recovery would come swiftest in the $25 million and above category that was only mildly affected by the global downturn.

Speaking at the show's opening session, Aboulafia, the Teal Group's senior aviation analyst, said the biggest brake on recovery for new aircraft sales is the inventory of used business jets on the market. Although the percentage of the fleet available for sale has dropped from over 16% in 2009 to around 14%, it will "take another year or so to work through that backlog". Used aircraft prices were still also falling.

There were many signs of optimism, he said. Corporate profits are rising and big companies such as Ford - forced to furlough corporate jets last year as a result of political pressure - are resuming business jet travel. "Business aircraft are essential for the worldwide operations of a company like Ford," he said.

Aboulafia's upbeat message was echoed by a number of manufacturer chief executives. Cessna's Jack Pelton - whose Citation CJ4 light business jet made its European debut at the show - said levels of interest in its models were "definitely beginning to pick up, and, while the recovery may be slow, there are reasons for optimism".

The "pendulum has swung back" said Charles Edelstenne of Dassault, which reported a net loss of 95 corporate sales last year. "I hope that will not be repeated for some time," he said, noting that lead times had increased to "unsustainable" levels before the "bubble burst" in 2008.

He warned that new aircraft sales would not recover until the "pre-owned inventory and prices go back to normal levels, and that will take some time".

Gulfstream's Joe Lombardo agreed that "things are looking up", pointing to indicators such as rising GDP and flying hours. However, he said uncertainty in the eurozone caused by the economic crisis in Greece was creating some "nervousness".

Also speaking at the opening session, Brian Humphries, chief executive of the European Business Aviation Association, and his National Business Aviation Association counterpart Ed Bolen called for everyone in the industry to "redouble their efforts" to convince policy makers of the contribution business aviation makes to the economy.