Forecasts 2011: Business aviation - New beginnings

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It has been another a tough year for the business aviation industry. Although the economic shackles have begun to loosen their grip on the once thriving community, demand for business aircraft has been stagnant across most sectors of the industry and the inventory of used aircraft is proving hard to shift.

While the economic recovery has begun, analysts predict that it will be another year before the effects of the worst economic downturn for seven decades abates. "We are in a three-year downturn and 2011 is the trough," says Richard Aboulafia, senior analyst with US consultancy the Teal Group.

He says the lighter end of the business aviation market will continue to feel the brunt of the economic pain as a result of its dependence on third-party finance, which has become increasingly hard to secure since the financial meltdown. He believes this contrasts with the top end of the market, where traditional buyers of large-cabin, long-range aircraft are returning at a much greater rate.

bombardier global 7000, bombardier
 © Bombardier
Canada's Bombardier launched its Global 7000 in late 2010

"It looks like the recovery is making the split between the two halves of the market even more profound," says Aboulafia. "The top-half jets are resuming growth. The best you can say for the bottom half is that it has stopped falling."

But he says: "The stage is set for the economic recovery to quicken this year. That should finally reduce the stockpile of surplus jets on the market and set the stages for deliveries growth in 2012. But for most products and players that aren't in the top part of the market, 2011 looks set to be just as grim as 2010 in terms of new-build deliveries."

The mood in the industry is one of cautious optimism and quiet determination. Airframers are continuing to concentrate on international markets - notably in Asia Pacific, Latin America, eastern Europe and the Middle East - which they believe will make important contributions to the industry's gradual recovery and account for an increased proportion of future sales.

NEW ENTRANTS

There was a trickle of new market entrants across the business aircraft spectrum in 2010.Embraer delivered its first Legacy 650 in November. The latest member of its business jet family was launched in October 2009 as an extended-range derivative of the Legacy 600 and as a rival to large-cabin entrants including the Bombardier Challenger 605, Dassault Falcon 2000LX, Gulfstream G350 and G450.

The Brazilian airframer will continue to work behind the scenes to bring its superlight and midsize Legacy 450 and 500 business jets to market in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and may choose 2011 to mark its expected foray into the ultra-long-range business jet arena.

Canada's Bombardier reaffirmed its commitment to this lucrative sector in 2010 with the launch of its Global 7000 and 8000 ultra-long-range models that will sit at the top of the product line above the Global 5000 and XRS business jets when they enter service in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

The jets are challengers to Gulfstream's top-of-the-range M0.9 G650, which is earmarked for service entry later this year along with its super-midsize G200 replacement - the G250.

gulfstream g650, gulfstream
 © Gulfstream

In 2010, Cessna launched a rebooted version of its flagship Citation X. The Citation Ten will fly for the first time this year, equipped with upgraded Rolls-Royce AE3007C2 turbofan engines with new fans, elliptical winglets and Garmin G5000 avionics.

Cessna may focus its attention on the other end of its product range with the launch of a new single-engined turboprop to fill a product gap between the company's 235kt (435km/h) piston-powered 400 Corvalis TT and the 340kt Mustang twin-engined very light jet.

Dassault marked 2010 with the certification and service entry of its large-cabin Falcon 900LX. The French airframer will continue to work on its latest venture, the SMS business jet. Dassault says it is working at full throttle to bring the clean-sheet aircraft to market in 2016.

This year may see Piaggio's entry into the business jet arena. The Italian manufacturer of the Avanti II twin-engined turboprop has been working on a number of designs.

Fellow turboprop maker Hawker Beechcraft continued to remvamp its King Air family, with the introduction of C90GTX. However, the struggling US airframer was forced to suspend production of its 400XP light-cabin business jet due to declining sales.

The coming year could mark the revival of a clutch of start-up programmes. Eclipse Aerospace says there is growing interest in the resurrected and upgraded EA500 very light jet and with Sikorsky now on board shareholder, a production relaunch could be on the cards.

najet eclipse 500, najet 
 © NAJet

A similar fortune could await the SPn light business jet if Daher Socata decides to adopt the programme after its evaluation period is over. Allied Aviation Technologies has been looking for a home for the seven-seat SPn since 2008 when Grob Aerospace became insolvent.

Meanwhile, a new prototype of the Kestrel single-engined turboprop is expected to be unveiled later this year by its new owner, aviation pioneer Alan Klapmeier. The founder and former chief of Cirrus is replacing the Farnborough Aircraft-designed Kestrel's curved leading edge with a straight wing and will be 15cm (6in) wider. Certification is targeted for around 2014.