Graham Warwick/US Editor

BASED ON THE YEAR JUST ended, 1996 looks promising for the general-aviation (GA) industry. US General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) figures suggest that aircraft shipments have already passed the low point and are now increasing, albeit slowly.

The reasons are well documented: economic recovery releasing pent-up demand; stimulation of that demand by the many new-aircraft launches recently; and US product-liability reform resulting from the GA Revitalisation Act.

Since the Act became law in August 1994, GAMA has reported a slight upturn in piston-aircraft shipments, which the association believes, rests on a rise in customer confidence.

While Cessna's return to piston-single manufacturing will have little effect on 1996 shipments, the 1,000 aircraft it plans to build in 1997 is twice the number delivered by all US manufacturers in 1994.

Piston-aircraft shipments will nevertheless increase in 1996, with Piper raising output and newcomers Diamond and Zenith planning volume production of their new trainers, initially in Canadian factories. Four-seaters from new US manufacturers Cirrus and Kestrel are also scheduled to enter production during 1996.

At the heavy end of the GA spectrum, 1995 was a milestone in Gulfstream's battle for the long-range business-jet market, with the November first flight of its GV - ten months ahead of Bombardier's rival Global Express. The next year will reveal whether Gulfstream can turn its schedule advantage into market dominance.


Although few new business-jet launches are projected for 1996 - most manufacturers have finished revamping their product lines - it promises to be an eventful year. Cessna will deliver the Mach 0.92 Citation X and light Citation Bravo, fly the wide-body Citation Excel and is expected, to announce a replacement for the Citation VII. Dassault will deliver the improved Falcon 900EX and 50EX, completing the reshaped range of corporate aircraft.

Raytheon remains the company to watch, following statements that its September 1995 launch of the Premier I marks both the start of a new light business-jet line and the beginning of the rejuvenation of its entire product line, from piston singles, through the King Air, to the Hawker 1000. Launch of a successor to the mid-sized Hawker 1000 is expected in 1996.

Industrially, significant events scheduled for 1996 include the selection of suppliers of major airframe sections for the Hawker 1000 replacement, the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) Astra Galaxy and Sino-Swearingen SJ30. IAI's search for a Galaxy fuselage supplier is key to its plans to begin deliveries in 1997.

Business-aircraft fractional ownership will move out of its US stronghold, in 1996 spearheaded by the expansion of Executive Jet Aviation's NetJets programme into Europe. If NetJets repeats its success in Europe, and schemes such as the Swiss-backed Corpavia Club manage to thrive, shared-ownership programmes can be expected to add incrementally to steadily increasing business-aircraft sales.

While figures are yet not available which would prove that the long-depressed helicopter market is enjoying a similar recovery, manufacturers appear encouraged by the signs. Some of the optimism is caused by the order backlogs being generated by new products, particularly the Bell 407 light single-turbine and McDonnell Douglas Explorer light-twin helicopters.

There are also signals that key markets may be recovering from prolonged recession: corporate transport, responding to economic recovery; emergency medical-services, driven by equipment-upgrade requirements; and even offshore support, fuelled by renewed exploration and new safety regulations.

Manufacturers have been busy stimulating demand, and at least six new helicopter types are expected to enter service during 1996: Agusta's improved A.109 Power and single-engine A.119 Koala; Bell's 407 and intermediate-twin 430; Eurocopter's EC.135 light twin; and McDonnell Douglas' stretched MD 600N light, tail-rotorless, turbine single.

Source: Flight International