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Confidence confirmed

Reassurance that business aviation is bubbling again was provided at Paris.

Graham Warwick/PARIS

If confirmation was needed of the recent resurgence in business aviation, then Paris provided it. The industry is experiencing its biggest backlogs since 1977, and most manufacturers reported production-rate increases to cope with burgeoning demand.

Several factors are cited for the resurgence: economic recovery releasing pent-up demand; new products offering better value for money; and business changes demanding increased efficiency. Whatever the reason, business-aircraft sales have grown substantially since the last quarter of 1994.

The North American market is leading the recovery, "...but should be better", says Learjet president Brian Barents. Europe "...is still a little soft", and new markets such as China, the CIS and Asia-Pacific are still relatively long-term prospects for new-aircraft sales, he indicates.

That said, the potential of the Asian market was forcefully illustrated when Malaysian businessman Amin Shah walked into the show and ordered both a Gulfstream V and a Raytheon Hawker 800. Adding to the optimism generated by this unexpected event is the fact that Shah does not presently operate an aircraft.

No new aircraft were launched at the show, although Dassault Aviation's extended-range Falcon 900EX was displayed for the first time. Raytheon Aircraft, meanwhile, continued to tease the industry with hints about its new light corporate jet, to be launched at the US National Business Aircraft Association Show in September.

MORE FALCONS

Representing the host nation, Dassault announced that Falcon production will increase from 22 in 1994 to 30 in 1995, with the objective of reaching 40 aircraft a year. The company sold 45 Falcons in 1994, 20 in the final two months, and has booked 20 orders so far this year. Backlog for the 900EX is in "double digits".

Gulfstream says that it has a backlog of more than 30 GIVs and orders worth more than $2 billion for the long-range GV. The company expects to be building more than 40 GIVs and GVs a year by 1997, up from 22 GVs in 1994.

Bombardier announced that 12 additional Global Expresses are to be produced in 1998 and 1999 to meet demand for the long-range business jet. The order backlog is "substantially more than 40 aircraft", the company says, and production, before the announcement, was sold out to the year 2000.

The Canadian company expects to sell "three to six" additional Canadair Challengers a year following the Paris launch of the Special Edition (SE), a 15-seat transatlantic business jet based on the Regional Jet. The Challenger SE will also be useful as a "quasi-demonstrator" for the Global Express' similarly sized cabin, says Business Aircraft division president John Lawson.

Canadair also unveiled a tie-up with aircraft-modification specialist Pemco World Air Services to offer a cargo-door conversion for the Challenger. Lawson sees a near-term market for about 25 new-build quick-change aircraft for military customers, plus perhaps five used-aircraft package-freighter conversions for civil operators.

Bombardier also announced that Learjet 45 production is to be stepped up, from 24 to 36 in 1997 and to 48 in 1998, and that the additional delivery slots created have already been sold. Barents also revealed that sales of the smaller Learjet 31A are up substantially, with all 23 aircraft planned for 1995 production already sold.

Contributing to Bombardier's backlog is the faster-than-expected growth of its new Jet Solutions fractional-ownership scheme. Two Learjet 31As and two Learjet 60s are already in service and the fleet is now scheduled to reach 14 by October - six 31As, six 60s and two Challenger 601-3Rs.

FRACTIONAL OWNERSHIP

Barents expects fractional ownership to increase business-aircraft production industry-wide by 30%, although so far few competitors have emerged to challenge Executive Jet International's (EJI) NetJets programme. EJI has just received the first of five GIVs to be delivered this year. Delivery of 25 Cessna Citation V Ultras, will begin this month and EJI has exercised options, on an additional three Hawker 1000s, taking its fleet to 16.

The likelihood that EJI will exercise its four remaining Hawker 100 options this year is a factor in Raytheon Aircraft's plans to step up the production rates of both the Hawker 800 and 1000 to meet increased demand. Planned UK production of the 1000 is sold out, and assembly of the aircraft, which was to be suspended in 1997, is now likely to be transferred to the USA, enabling production to continue. Relocation of the 800 line to the USA is already under way.

Israel Aircraft Industries also reported increased demand for its Astra business-jet. "Sales are well ahead of last year," says Astra Jet president Roy Bergstrom. The high-speed Astra SPX, deliveries of which begin in December, is sold out until the end of the second quarter of 1996, he says. Astra Jet holds "more than 20" delivery-position deposits on the new Galaxy mid-sized business-jet. It began converting these to firm orders at Paris.

Cessna displayed the Citation X at Paris, but acknowledges that sales will remain slow until the high-speed business-jet is certificated in late 1995. Sales of the single-turboprop Caravan and CitationJet light business-jet are up substantially, meanwhile, and increased production of the new Citation Excel is being considered to meet demand.

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