Helicopters, crop-sprayers lead general aviation growth in 2012

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Helicopters remained a bright spot and agricultural aviation boosted otherwise flat sales for general and business aviation manufacturers in 2012, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) announced today.

Fixed-wing shipments grew by 0.6% compared with 2011 largely due to a surge of demand for turboprop-powered crop-sprayers, such as Thrush Aircraft and Air Tractor models, GAMA says. Rotorcraft shipment, meanwhile, leaped 21.5% to 1,044 deliveries, the advocacy group adds.

"2012 was kind of mixed," says Brad Mottier, chairman of GAMA and vice president and general manager for GE Aviation's business and general aviation unit. "We think we see the turboprops and the agricultural market are going to continue to thrive. There are more and more needs for those types of specialized aircraft around the world."

GAMA, however, was unable to offer a similarly positive outlook for 2013 for the test of its fixed-wing manufacturing members, especially as the US fiscal outlook remains uncertain.

The Obama Administration and Congress are poised to allow automatic budget cuts to take effect early next month, removing about $100 billion in government spending from the economy and forcing federal agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, to furlough employees for perhaps several weeks.

"Just the fact that we have so much uncertainty out there is really hurting our industry," says Pete Bunce, president and chief executive of GAMA.

But the manufacturers are clearly preparing for a market recovery in the light- and medium-sized jet market in the near term.

Mottier noted the airframers have more than 20 new products in development.

"When these products are introduced in the next three to five years we'll see the numbers changed substantially," he says.