New products and introduction of glass cockpits expected to maintain sales momentum for at least 12 months

Piston-aircraft manufacturers are gearing up for yet another 12 months of strong deliveries as new products enter the market and existing lines are refreshed to keep pace with changing customer expectations.

The driving force behind the sales surge is the introduction of glass-cockpit models, suggests Cirrus Design executive vice-president of sales and marketing John Bingham, who says Cirrus has an 18-month head start over its rivals, having introduced glass flightdecks as standard in August 2003. Deliveries of the Avidyne Entegra-equipped SR22, SR20 and SRV soared from 393 units in 2002 to 469 aircraft last year. "We expect to deliver more than 550 aircraft this year and even more in 2005 as we continue to revamp our products," Bingham says.

Cirrus is snapping at the heels of market leader Cessna, which last year shipped 588 piston singles. The Wichita, Kansas-based company says, however, that the introduction of the Garmin G1000 integrated flightdeck in the 182 Skylane and 206 Stationair models, the first of which is set to roll off the production line in the second quarter, should boost deliveries to "well above" 600 this year. "In 2004 we expect the G1000 option to account for 94% of 182 deliveries and 75% of 206 deliveries," Cessna says.

Lancair delivered 51 Columbia 300 and 350 singles last year and expects numbers to rise to around 140 in 2004 as the high-performance, Avidyne Entegra-equipped Columbia 400 enters service in the second quarter, with a backlog of around 100 aircraft.

Mooney Airplane says it plans to deliver around 80 units this year, but says service entry of its G1000-equipped Ovation2 GX and Bravo GX in September should boost numbers to more than 100 next year "and 200 units as soon as possible". The GX versions are expected to account for 80% of sales.

Austria's Diamond Aircraft is planning a 66% increase in deliveries this year to 343 pistons, boosted by the planned service entry of its G1000-equipped DA42 Twin Star diesel twin and the production ramp-up of its DA40 TDI. Newcomer Liberty Aerospace, which received certification for its two-seat XL-2 piston single last week, has forecast deliveries of 60 aircraft this year, ramping up to 220 units in 2005 and 340 units in 2006. The Melbourne, Florida-based company says it is evaluating a glass-cockpit version of the XL-2, which it says could boost sales even further - a view shared by Raytheon. The Wichita-based manufacturer says it will deliver 98 Beechcraft Bonanza singles and Baron twins this year, up from 82 in 2003, adding that the planned upgrades across its aircraft fleet will include glass-cockpit versions of both piston types.

Meanwhile, New Piper Aircraft expects deliveries of its light aircraft to remain flat this year at around 229. The troubled manufacturer says sales of its Seminole and Seneca piston twins have been hardest hit due to falling demand from training schools, and are not expected to recover until 2007. Prospects for its remaining product line are more upbeat, with New Piper expecting a market rebound early next year.

"We will continue our tradition of launching new products every six months to remain competitive," Piper says. In January Piper began to offer Avidyne's Entegra integrated flightdeck as an option on the Saratoga II HP, Saratoga II TC, Piper 6X and Piper 6XT, and says it plans to introduce glass cockpits throughout its range.

Source: Flight International