Booming Western economies and increased prosperity has brought a leap in sales of business turbine aircraft

Kate Sarsfield/LONDON


The world's business turbine fleet, notably in North America and Europe, has swelled to record levels during the past 12 months. Several factors have contributed to this, not least the burgeoning economies of the West and the removal of trade barriers and political obstacles which have allowed business to flourish in many areas of the globe.

"The business aviation community is experiencing an era of acceptance, driven by a fundamental need for efficient transportation. Airlines do not have the frequency of service, or sometimes no service, to important market areas," says National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) president Jack Olcott.

Within the past 12 months, the world turbine aircraft inventory has risen by just under 4%, from 18,688 to 19,373 aircraft. "The fleet distribution among turbine aircraft varies geographically. Operators in the USA, Europe, Central America and Asia have nearly equal proportions of jets and turboprops, while operators in Africa, South America and Oceania use twice as many turboprops as jets," says the NBAA.

America dominates

Predictably, North America continues to dominate the user market, chalking up 70% of this year's world fleet, with 13,553 aircraft. Europe lags, with 2,049 - 11% of the world's fleet. South America has the third highest concentration with 1,577 aircraft, a decline of around 50 on last year's total. The remainder is sprinkled among Africa (593), Central America (629) and Oceania (247), which includes Australia and the Pacific Islands (247) and Asia, which, with a further decline to 725 aircraft, continues to wrestle its economic woes.

The current jet fleet stands at 10,068 - with North America recording the largest increase, from 6,887 in 1998 to 7,409 this year. The growth in fractional ownership is undoubtedly a major contributory factor, with around 1,500 shares sold in 300 aircraft in North America alone. Europe and the Middle East are in line to receive a large injection of aircraft from Executive Jets' Netjets programme and from Bombardier Flexjet fractional ownership scheme, which is courting the European market. "In 1986 there were four owners of fractionally held business aircraft. By 1993, there were 89. From 1997-8, the number of companies using fractional ownership grew by over 50%, from 743 to 1,125 companies," says the NBAA, which represents the interests of 6,000 member companies worldwide.

Although the world's turboprop itinerary has risen, the growth is limited to North American and African markets only, with the remaining continents experiencing a slight decline. The rise in North America is due in part to flourishing sales of single-engined turboprops, principally the Cessna Caravan and Pilatus PC-12, following a decision by the US Federal Aviation Administration to lift its longstanding prohibition on single-engined instrument flight rule operations for commercial aircraft.

According to the NBAA, the jet fleet has tripled since 1979, with steady growth in each of the past 20 years. Within the same timeframe, the world turboprop fleet has more than doubled. "The size of the turboprop fleet has not changed substantially throughout the 1990s, even though inventories identified as business-related now include turboprop transport aircraft in military use, thereby noticeably increasing the quality of turboprop aircraft attributed to business aviation."

If aerospace analysts are to be believed, there is no precipitous downturn in sight for business aviation. A slight economic decline is not expected to affect manufacturers' strong order backlogs profoundly because the industry is finding ways of making business aircraft more socially acceptable and indispensable. Olcott says: "Business today, with all the marvels of communication, has only quickened its pace and strengthened the need for companies to be face to face with their existing and potential clients sooner than the competition."

Source: Flight International