Very light jet prospects recede as forecaster allows for prolonged recession

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The market for very light jets over the next 10 years could nose dive if the recession gripping many Western economies is as long and deep as some analysts predict, according to the latest report from UK aviation consultancy PMI Media.

The Brighton-based company forecasts 4,610 VLJs valued at $9.54 billion will be delivered between 2008 and 2017 - a 23% reduction on the 5,970 deliveries PMI predicted in its October report, reflecting the recent filing by Eclipse Aviation for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the halting by AAI Acquisitions of the A700 programme and the collapse of US air taxi operator DayJet.

PMI Media tracks the VLJ market - including models such as the Cirrus SJ50 Vision, Citation Mustang, Diamond D-Jet, Eclipse 500, Embraer Phenom 100, HondaJet, PiperJet and Spectrum S-33 Independence - by analysing supplier order backlogs and purchasing trends by air taxi, corporate and individual aircraft operators.

"Prospects for the VLJ market for the next 10 years have declined sharply over the last few weeks," says PMI Media editorial director Philip Butterworth-Hayes.

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"Given the current difficult market circumstances and the difficulty securing finance, it is difficult to see how more than one or two new aircraft entrants - outside established aircraft manufacturers such as Embraer, Diamond, Piper and Cessna - will be able to survive a prolonged period of market uncertainty," he adds.

The economic turmoil is also having a major impact on the fledgling air taxi industry, the report says. "Air taxi operators have planned orders for 1,062 VLJs, even after the demise of market leader DayJet in October. However, many of these are proving more aspirational than real. But as they still represent about a third of all orders for VLJs, any further air taxi losses in the next few months could prove critical to both industries."

While the 2008 delivery market is relatively easy to forecast the 2009 market will be determined by the survival or collapse of Eclipse Aviation, says PMI. "With a backlog of 500-plus orders, the Eclipse 500 will probably survive the current turmoil - but in a different form and with new owners who will be able to market a mature, competitive VLJ at a price somewhat above the current price range," the report says.

If this scenario is borne out and the recession "is not as deep or as long as many currently fear", PMI says its 10-year delivery forecast could be considerably higher. "It is not hard to see why optimism prevails in this area, despite the current economic gloom. After all, the huge backlog of new VLJ aircraft orders looks set to keep manufacturers extremely busy over the next three years, by which time the worst of the downturn will have blown itself out and new orders will resume," it says.