It is with some understatement that Claudio Camelier, vice-president marketing executive jets at Embraer, describes 2008 as "a very difficult year for business aviation".
The global economy - particularly corporate profits - and business jet sales are so intertwined that when GDP graphs began to resemble precipitous ski slopes, sales charts followed suit. "Backlog levels started to be affected in 2008 with cancellations and no new orders," notes Camelier. However, delivery numbers fell during 2009 and again in 2010, by another 12%, to 763 aircraft, according to General Aviation Manufacturers Association figures.
Although the world's economy has returned to growth, airframers are still waiting for the full impact of the recovery to be felt. Camelier points out that usually when US corporate profits rise, business aviation experiences growth a year or two afterwards. However, this time he feels things are different.
There are several factors contributing to sluggish business jet deliveries, he argues. Top of the list is the febrile nature of the economic recovery which, according to the latest forecasts, looks as though it could be heading for a lopsided "w" shape. "This certainly has an affect on the potential for new sales in the business aviation market," adds Camelier.
Add to this low utilisation levels among business jet fleets - an indication of over-capacity in the market - and the percentage of the current aircraft fleet up for sale - 14.8% of the global business jet fleet against a pre-crisis figure of 12% - and Camelier believes it is clear where the drag on sales is coming from.
With sales of smaller aircraft most affected, Embraer, in common with other business jet manufacturers, has cut the production rates to suit the market.
To say that it is all doom and gloom, however, would be to focus too closely on the immediate present. Having seen its market share grow from 2.7% in 2003 to 19% in 2010, Embraer is keen to continue this trend. It forecasts that the market will return to some degree of normality in 2012 and 2013. With its new $50 million Phenom assembly site in Melbourne, Florida due to come on stream this year, the company is planning for growth.
Camelier is also keen to put the fall in sales into context. He says: "It's important to remember that even in the worst years of the downturn it was still a healthy market. There were 763 deliveries in 2010, this year it will be 700 to 750, which is a level that the industry previously experienced in 2006 and back then everybody was very happy with the state of things." Even in the depths of recession, he notes, the business jet market was still larger than it was 10 years previously. He expects a return to 2008 levels by 2017.
Alongside the existing range of Phenom 100 and 300 and Legacy 600 and 650, Embraer is developing its Legacy 450 and 500, with first flight of the latter due in the second half of this year. Although it envisages most volume growth coming in the lighter end of the market, the more profitable aircraft, says Camelier, will be in the ultra-long-range segment, a segment where Embraer has a conspicuous gap in its range.
However, he plays down the possibility of new aircraft to plug that hole any time soon. He adds: "We are keeping our eyes on it, but at the current time we have no plans to develop an aircraft for that segment.
"The company's engineering resources are tied up with the KC-390 and [any new] E-Jet. We also have our hands full with the new Legacy [450 and 500]."
Besides, he adds, there's no problem with arriving later than the competition "if you arrive with a better product".