OPTIMISM IS GROWING within the US general-aviation (GA) industry that the promised steady long-term growth in piston-engined-aircraft sales is beginning to materialise.

Presenting a strong set of figures for 1995, Ed Stimpson, president of the US General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), commented that reform of US GA product-liability legislation in 1994 has already "sparked recovery".

Shipments were up by 15% in 1995, with US deliveries climbing to 576, and a rise is expected again this year, before taking off in 1997 as Cessna re-enters the field.

Stimpson notes that Commander, Mooney, and New Piper Aircraft have all either announced product improvements, or have said that they will be launching new piston-engine models. He also points to growing interest among finance houses in extending the fractional-ownership concept to piston-engined aircraft.

He adds that there is significant pent-up demand for new training aircraft, with predictions that the US student-pilot population could grow by 1.2 million individuals.

New Piper Aircraft helped lead the piston-aircraft recovery in 1995. Over the year, it raised production to 177 aircraft, including the Malibu Mirage, Warrior III, Archer III, Arrow, Saratoga IIHP, Seminole and Seneca IV. For 1996, the company is forecasting a further rise to 186 deliveries.

A bigger boost should come towards the end of the year as Cessna restarts piston-single deliveries. New-production Cessna 172 Skyhawks will begin to roll off the new $45 million production line at Independence Municipal Airport, Kansas, in December - about three months later than planned. Construction of the factory was to be completed in 1995, but weather slowed progress.

Newly hired staff are working temporarily in Wichita, Kansas, on Skyhawk pilot production. The firm hopes that the new production plant will generate about $300 million in annual sales and create 1,800 new jobs at Cessna plants in Wichita and Independence.

Cessna is also reviving 182 Skylane, 206, and turbocharged TC206 production.

Source: Flight International