NBAA 09: OEM chiefs vow long, slow haul to recovery has begun

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The slow climb to recovery has begun. That was the consensus of leaders of the major manufacturers at NBAA. The question is how slow and how much more pain will the sector endure?

As at EBACE in May, the industry put on a united front, stressing business aviation's importance to economic recovery after a slew of negative publicity and claiming order cancellations and the decline in traffic and aircraft values had bottomed out.

Although US economic indicators point to a muted revival of consumer and business confidence in the past few months, most manufacturers are factoring a fall in output next year - in line with the benchmark annual Honeywell forecast published at the show. The brightest hope remains the immature markets of Asia and the Middle East, where the industry sees a rebound in orders happening first and fastest.

Jack Pelton of Cessna - which has shed half its 16,000-strong workforce - said the company had moved to match production to demand and was cautiously optimistic for 2010. "I'm far from ready to call it a turnaround, but we do see some encouraging developments," he said.

His views were echoed by Gulfstream's Joe Lombardo, whose company is pushing towards first flight for its flagship large-cabin G650. "I'm not going to tell you we're back on the upswing, but there are some early signs that we're starting to pull out of this," he said.

Bombardier - which is keeping faith in its Learjet 65XR programme following the collapse of its main customer, European fractional start-up Jet Republic - said backlogs for its top-end Challenger and Global products remained robust and that it was looking at developments at the top of its range, including a corporate version of the CSeries.

Hawker Beechcraft's Bill Boisture said the business jet market would not recover until 2012. He vowed it was a case of "not if we prevail but when we prevail" for the beleagured manufacturer. Dassault's John Rossanvallon said his company was "one of the few OEMs increasing its output over the last year" due to the ramp up of the 7X. Embraer signed a deal for two Legacy 650s after announcing the large-cabin variant at NBAA, the only airframer with a major programme launch.