Fleet sales for flight schools have proved a saving grace for Diamond Aircraft's North American operations this year as the retail sales market fell away and the company had to use its resources to develop an alternative engine and several new versions of aircraft after the collapse of a key engine supplier.
Thielert's insolvency in April 2008 effectively meant the recession for Diamond started about six months earlier than for its competitors, with deliveries of the diesel-powered DA40 single and DA42 twin stalling, despite a healthy orderbook.
Diamond Aircraft expects US certification of its Austro-powered DA42 NG later this year
Diamond responded by developing a Lycoming-powered version of its twin - it already had a Lycoming-powered DA40 option - as well as the 340hp (254kW) DA42 NG powered by its proprietary Austro Engine AE300. The AE300 engine and DA42 NG both received European certification this year, and US airworthiness validations are in process.
These projects, along with sagging sales, called for spending restraint for the company's flagship product development, the single-engine D-Jet, pushing its expected certification date further into 2010 from the previously announced first half of the year.
"There have been some retail sales, but if we had to depend on retail alone, it would have been very difficult," says Peter Maurer, president of Diamond Aircraft's North America operation.
Deliveries compressed into the first half of 2009 include 20 single-engine aircraft to Doss Aviation for the US Air Force Academy, 22 aircraft to CAE Global Academy for ab-initio training in India, and 14 single- and twin-engine aircraft to Massey University of New Zealand for a fleet replacement programme.
"We have been able to compensate for lost deliveries on the retail side by pushing hard to deliver into the factory-direct fleet market," says Maurer. "Overall delivery numbers are down from where we want, but not as much as some competitors."
Maurer says Diamond's North American sales could be boosted later this year when US certification is complete for the AE300 engine and the DA42 NG, as well as the DA42-derived MPP (multi-purpose platform), a combination that is selling well.
Diamond's cautious optimism will be reflected in its sizeable presence at Oshkosh, with 10 aircraft on static display, included two D-Jet prototypes, a DA42 NG flown in from Austria and an HK36 Super Dimona Rotax-powered motorglider.