Embraer is seeing increasing demand for its Legacy 600 with 30 deliveries expected this year

The world's corporate turbine fleet has swelled over the past year as the benefits of business aviation permeate the far-flung reaches of the globe. Such is the demand for business aircraft across the world's booming economies that North America, traditionally the biggest buyer, is taking second place to the international market, which for many manufacturers now accounts for up to 60% of new orders.

This expanding customer base brings with it huge order backlogs and increased competition - a challenge welcomed by a sector that has continued to sustain and stimulate demand by introducing new and upgraded models since Flight International's 2006 corporate aircraft census.

This year's survey, compiled from Flight's ACAS database, reflects the industry's strong growth from 31 August 2006 to 30 July 2007. It reveals the world's turbine business aircraft fleet has climbed by nearly 3.4% to 25,312 jets and turboprops, compared with 24,466 in last year's census. Turboprops continued their renaissance, with the fleet climbing over the past year by more than 2% from 10,091 to 10,306 - a figure which looks set to rise even further over the coming months as high fuel prices continue to enhance the competitiveness of these economical aircraft.

But it is the worldwide corporate jet fleet that has seen the largest rate of growth, climbing by more than 4% from 14,375 to 15,006 aircraft in 11 months.

Embraer once again recorded the largest percentage increase, albiet from a small installed base, with a 27% rise in its jet fleet from 82 to 113 aircraft - wholly attributable to sales of its Legacy 600 business jet. The super mid-size jet has seen its popularity soar and production will climb to 30 aircraft this year.

average age of turbine aircraft

The Brazilian manufacturer's expansion from regional into business jet manufacturing is also bearing fruit, with its second product offering - the large-cabin Lineage 1000 derivative of the E-190 airliner - set to enter service late this year. Embraer has also accumulated substantial backlogs for the purpose-designed Phenom 100 very light jet and Phenom 300 light jet, which are to enter service in 2008 and 2009 respectively, and it is testing the market with concepts for two more new aircraft - a medium-light and mid-size jet.

Cessna continues to dominate the fleet in both deliveries and in-service numbers. The worlwdie Citation inventory grew by 256 aircraft to 4,880, representing more than 19% of the worldwide turbine inventory and 32% of the total jet fleet. This figure was boosted by rapid take-up of Cessna's newest aircraft - the CJ1+ and CJ2+ light jet fleets more than doubled to 42 and 53 respectively CJ3 light jets climbed from 90 to 164 the mid-size Sovereign from 100 to 137 and the superlight XLS from 139 to 205.

Cessna plans to deliver 380 Citations this year, including 44 of its new Mustang entry-level jets, and booked more than 400 orders in the first six months of this year - 282 in the second quarter alone. Planned production next year is set to rise to 470 jets, including 100 Mustangs and the first XLS+, and is set to rise further in 2009 and beyond when its CJ4, a stretched and upgraded version of the CJ3, enters service. Cessna continues to look at launching a large-cabin business jet.

Gulfstream's in-service fleet, meanwhile, has climbed by over 6% from 1,450 to 1,546 aircraft, including 19 of the mid-size G150 that entered service in August 2006 to replace the G100. The fleet includes 132 long-range G550s, a 30% increase over last year's tally 68 large-cabin G450s, a 50% rise and 135 super mid-size G200s. Increased production of 88 large-cabin jets in 2008 is already sold out, but expanded manufacturing facilities will come on line next year at its Savannah, Georgia plant. Parent company General Dynamics says Gulfstream is planning to introduce two new aircraft in the next year.

Upward trend

Bombardier's business jet inventory has climbed by more than 10% from 3,179 aircraft to 3,310, including one example each of the upgraded Learjet 60XR and Challenger 605, which make their census debuts. The fleet includes 30 Global Express XRS ultra-long-range jets, compared with two in last year's census, and six large-cabin Challenger 850s that entered service last year. The fleet of super-large Global 5000s has grown from 24 to 34 while the number of super-mid Challenger 300s has rocketed by over 40% to 141 aircraft. The upward trend looks set to continue as the Canadian airframer boosts business jet production further to offset the fall in demand for its regional aircraft.

Dassault - the only European airframer in business aviation's top five - has seen its Falcon fleet grow during the census period from 1,585 to 1,594 aircraft. Although the tally for current production models has seen a sharp climb since the previous survey, the overall rise has been offset by 44 Falcon 20s that have been retired or destroyed, while others have been removed from this listing as they no longer in corporate service.

The French company's philosophy of pitching its product line at the top end of the market has paid dividends as demand for current-production Falcons is soaring. The large-cabin 2000EX fleet has risen from 85 to 115 aircraft, the defuelled 900DX from five to 10 and the long-range 900EX from 163 to 177. The inventory will swell over the coming year as production of the ultra-long-range Falcon 7X, which entered service in June with an order backlog of 165, begins in earnest. The 2000DX will also enter service early next year, replacing the original large-cabin 2000. Meanwhile, Dassault in September delivered the penultimate Falcon 50EX. The mid-size aircraft, which saw its inventory grow by only four aircraft during the census period, is to be being replaced by Dassault's new super mid-size jet. The final 50EX, serial number 352, is expected to enter service early next year.

At the top end of the business jet market, Airbus and Boeing continue to expand their fleets of VIP-configured airliners as they gain market acceptance, particularly for large group transportation. Boeing Business Jets has seen its fleet climb again, this year to by 18 aircraft to 97 - including 84 BBJs and 13 BBJ 2s and the trend that looks set to continue until 2012 when the next delivery slot becomes available. However, retirement and removal from service of a number of older corporate conversions of airliners such as the 707 and 727 offset the increase in the Boeing fleet, which remains static at 246 aircraft. Introduction of the VIP 747-8 and 787-8/9 in 2009 will have little impact on fleet numbers as these widebodies are in the main being acquired by customers seeking to replace older Boeing types such as the 747.

Airbus's Corporate Jetliner fleet has climbed by 7% from 64 to 68 aircraft in the past year, including the first VIP A340-600. The first A318 Elite makes its debut in this year's census and Airbus has around 30 orders and commitments for the aircraft, which will further increase the manufacturer's corporate inventory in the coming year.

Change of ownership

Hawker Beechcraft, which has undergone a change of ownership since the previous census, boasts one of the broadest product spans. Its fleet has grown steadily since the last census from 1,899 to 2,014. The census reveals the in-service fleet of Hawker 800s has grown to 725 aircraft over the past year, confirming its position as the best-selling mid-size jet. The current 850XP version is being replaced by two variants - the higher-performance 900XP and shorter-range 750, scheduled to enter service this month, and later this year, respectively.

Business jet growth

Boosted by its popularity with fractional ownership programmes, the Hawker 400XP light-jet fleet has soared during the same period from 125 to 128, while the entry-level Premier I inventory has climbed by 154 to 193, including 63 upgraded Premier IAs. It remains to be seen whether the much-delayed Hawker 4000 will enter service in the fourth quarter as planned. The company says it is completing post-certification work, including icing approval and system upgrades, so it can deliver "fully usable" aircraft from October, paving the way for around 10 deliveries this year and 24 in 2008.

While Hawker Beechcraft boasts a healthy share of the world's jet market, its dominance of the turboprop arena is unrivalled, due to the continued popularity of its King Air, which represents over half the world's twin-turboprop fleet at 5,537. Overall, the fleet has risen by 211 aircraft since the last census to 5,569, including 27 1900C/Ds - three more than last year - as the out-of-production regional turboprop gains market acceptance as a low-cost VIP transport. Hawker Beechcraft has also introduced two suped-up versions of the King Air - the C90GTi and B200T - which are earmarked for service entry with substantial order backlogs later this year.

Italy's Piaggio continues to see strong demand for its Avanti II, a revamp of the 20-year-old P180 twin-turboprop, with the inventory up by a third to 126 aircraft. Demand is particularly strong from fractional operators and Piaggio plans to boost annual production from 19 to 40 aircraft by 2009. The decision by Rockwell Collins to offer the Avanti II's Pro Line 21 cockpit for retrofit will also help sustain interest in older Avanti types.

Despite the decade-long struggle to gain to operate single-engined aircraft commercially in the potentially lucrative European market, turboprop singles remain popular and continue to make considerable fleet gains.

The in-service Pilatus PC-12 fleet has risen by 12% from 631 to 701 aircraft and production is sold out until 2010. Although North America is the base for over 560 of the nine-seat turboprops, the PC-12 fleet is making significant gains in Africa and Latin America, according to ACAS, where a prevalence of short unpaved runways has boosted numbers by 20% and 50% respectively over the past year. Ninety PC-12s are due for delivery this year and up to 105 next year when the Next Generation PC-12 enters service - featuring a Honeywell Primus Apex avionics system and a more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67P engine.

The decision by Piper Aircraft to install the Avidyne Entegra integrated flightdeck as standard has boosted the Meridian single-turboprop fleet, with the 49 aircraft delivered since the last census bringing the airframer's inventory tally to 1,343. The manufacturer is hoping Meridian operators will move up to the single-engined PiperJet, launched a year ago and scheduled to enter service within three years just as projected demand for the new breed of personal jets take off.

Although EADS Socata has yet to commit to a glass-cockpit upgrade its single-turboprop TBM850, the in-service fleet numbers have continued to climb over the past 11 months, from 280 to 365. The airframer has already committed to producing 50 aircraft this year and more in 2008.

The next 12 months is expected to nudge the turboprop inventory higher, with Quest Aircraft expected to begin delivery of its 10-seat, Garmin G1000-equipped Kodiak this quarter. The single-turborop utility aircraft, competitor for Cessna's Caravan, has a three-year backlog.

Very light jets

It remains to be seen if the emerging fleets of very lights jets will impact turboprop sales. The first of the breed entered service this year including the Citation Mustang and Eclipse 500, both of which make their census debuts. Although only nine aircraft entered service during the census period, Eclipse has a staggering 2,600 orders and its production ramp-up into next year will be reflected in the 2008 census, along with the first Adam A700s, if the VLJ finally gains certification early next year.

The thirst for new aircraft around the globe coupled with the introduction of orderbook-busting aircraft such as the Eclipse 500, Mustang and Diamond D-Jet looks set to propel the world corporate turbine fleet to new heights. US analyst Richard Aboulafia, forecasting production of 12,000 business jets worth $173.2 billion over the next 10 years and preducting another all-time market high this year with deliveries of 999 aircraft worth $16.4 billion, says: "Another year, another peak."


Source: Flight International