Business aircraft ruled the roost at Paris, earning billions of dollars for their manufacturers

Kate Sarsfield/PARIS

The appeal of the fractional ownership market was one showstopping example of business and general aviation's newly elevated role at Paris, with mammoth aircraft orders totalling nearly $3 billion. The world's largest programme operator Executive Jet stunned the industry with another massive order for its NetJets fractional programmes in the USA, Europe and the Middle East.

This time the fractional ownership pioneer is expanding its already excessive fleet through the acquisition of "super mid-size" business aircraft. The Woodbridge, New Jersey-based company announced a $2 billion order for 50 Raytheon Hawker Horizons and an option for a further 50 aircraft which not only marks the largest aircraft order in Raytheon's history, but also mirrors the order placed by Executive Jet in October 1998, for 100 Cessna Citation Sovereigns. The company has more than 460 business jets on order, which it claims represents almost 40% of the business jets on order with the major aircraft manufacturers.

Not to be outdone, Bombardier is expanding its successful US FlexJet fractional ownership programme to Europe. Although the programme has begun for existing US customers wishing to travel to Europe, FlexJet Europe will not be fully implemented until September but will be built around a fleet of at least four core aircraft types: Learjet 31As, 45s 60s and Challenger 604s will be placed, with the Global Express coming on line at a later date.

Fledgling US fractional ownership provider, Flight Options of Cleveland, Ohio, surprised the industry with an order for 25 Fairchild Envoy 7s, valued at around $750 million. First delivery will be in late 2002. Spurred by bulging orderbooks and backlogs, the business aircraft manufacturers were in a buoyant mood. Many displayed their full current business aircraft line, including Cessna, which has no fewer than four new business jets in various stages of certification at its Wichita, Kansas, base: the CJ1, CJ2, Sovereign and the Ultra Encore.

Bombardier, while also showing off its full range, used the Paris venue to kick-start the long awaited launch of its Continental "super mid-size" business jet - the eighth new aircraft the company has launched in five years. The $15 million Continental is to enter service in 2003, pitched against Cessna's Citation Sovereign, lined up for certification in 2002; Raytheon's Hawker Horizon, which is planned to enter service by mid-2001; and Galaxy Aerospace's Galaxy, which will enter service this year. Bombardier had clocked up 100 orders, with deposits before the Continental launch.

Helicopter manufacturers were also out in force at the show, keen to push their wares following Europe's decision to relax its restrictions for now on single-engined operations. Eurocopter boasted a full line up of machines. Although the French manufacturer had nothing to announce, it was keen to promote its line- up of no-tail rotor helicopters, including the EC120 single, EC135 and EC155 twins, in a campaign to secure public acceptance, as continuing controversy over helicopter noise threatens the livelihood of European operators.

Agusta too paraded its full repertoire: the 109Power (and other 109 variants), the new A129 Koala single, which is lined up for certification following the show and which took part in the flying display. But highlighting Agusta's contribution was the unveiling of its AB139, which it is developing with fellow helicopter manufacturer Bell Textron, although Agusta has carved a majority stake in the 75:25 partnership. The company forecasts sales of around 900, 12/15-seat AB139 helicopters by 2020 and is targeting the $6 million aircraft at both the civil and military markets. Certification is lined up for 2002, with first deliveries shortly after.

The light aircraft industry was out in force. Socata grabbed headlines by launching a freighter variant of its TBM700 turboprop single, which has a large door and internal hooks for securing cargo. The Aerospatiale Matra-owned company also signed a deal with cargo operator Air Open Sky under which the carrier will lease the aircraft for trials.

Cessna and Pilatus have seen a resurgence in sales of their respective Caravan and PC12 single-engined turboprops since the Canadian, Australian and US civil aviation authorities gave the "all clear" to commercial single-engined instrument flight rules (IFR). Manufacturers reported "strong" interest in their aircraft on display, and will be hoping that this enthusiasm filters through to the European aviation authorities, particularly the UK. The latter's resistance to lifting the ban on single-engined IFR for commercial operations is creating the largest obstacle to increased sales.

Separately Socata's joint venture with Renault on the Morane diesel engine also bore fruit as the 150kW (200hp) powerplant made its international debut during the flight display powering the four-seat,TB20 Trinidad light single. The company, called Societe de Motorisations Aeronautiques, anticipates a cascade of orders over the next 10 years as the diesel engine replaces the ageing piston. Certification is planned for 2001.

Source: Flight International