Orders up and cancellations down

output of regional jets on the increase turboprop deliveries at lowest since 1950s despite optimism

After a disastrous 2002, regional airliner manufacturers last year saw a return to the boom times of the late 1990s. Gross orders in 2003 were above 300 and there was a significant reduction in cancellations. However, overall output has declined, despite increases in jet production, due to a further fall in the number of turboprops being delivered.

Net orders last year totalled 303 aircraft (374 gross before cancellations and changes), of which 262 (323 gross) were for regional jets and the rest for turboprops. The preceding year's gross order tally of 112 (including 86 regional jets) was almost tripled. The 2002 net order figure of minus 96 (with regional jets recording minus 121 net orders), was a one-off blip as a result of the collapse of Fairchild Dornier and the termination of its orders.

For the builders of turboprops, a disappointing 2002 has been followed by a dismal 2003, with combined net orders and deliveries of 41 and 29, respectively. The latter was at its lowest level since turboprop deliveries began in the 1950s.

Last year's surge in jet sales was driven largely by Embraer, which rebounded strongly to 139 net orders after a poor 2002. The bulk of its success was down to its 70- to 110-seat Embraer 170/190 family, for which it secured 127 net orders - including the launch deal for the 190 from JetBlue. Sales of its 37- to 50-seat ERJ-145 family models were slim, with a net increase of 12 aircraft.

In Montreal, Bombardier's CRJ family fared much better than it did a year ago, earning 72 net orders for the manufacturer, although it was still well beaten by Embraer. Commitments for the 44- to 50-seat CRJ models made up two-thirds of the orders, with the bulk of the remainder being for the CRJ700 Series 705 - which is in fact based on the larger CRJ900 platform equipped with a two-class, 75-seat layout. Its cumbersome designation is a bid to circumnavigate pilot scope clauses. Net sales of the standard CRJ700 (the Series 701), and the baseline CRJ900 ended the year in deficit due to order changes and cancellations.

Last year witnessed the departure of one established jet family - the Avro RJ/BAe 146 - as the last four aircraft were delivered following BAE Systems' termination of the programme in 2001. At the same time, a new regional jet name has joined the ranks, China's AVIC I ARJ21, which notched up its first orders after its launch last year. With two Chinese airlines and a financial company placing orders for 35 aircraft, the new programme is now in the development phase and first deliveries are due in 2007.

The resurrection of the old Fairchild Dornier lines also took a step forward last year, with US company AvCraft Aviation taking control of the 328JET family. It reports orders for 23 328JETs in 2003, of which it says "around 50%" were for the airliner version, and completed seven deliveries of aircraft already on order.

The regional jet boom of the 1990s saw annual output spiral to around 340 aircraft by 2001, before declining to just over 300 aircraft in 2002. Jet shipments are on the up again, reaching 319 aircraft last year, although overall regional production declined slightly from 368 to 348 due to the record low in turboprop production.

After Bombardier's output overtook that of its rival Embraer in 2002, the gap widened in 2003. The Brazilian manufacturer delivered 87 jet airliners, against Bombardier's 221. When Dash 8 turboprop production is included, the Canadian company's output of 240 aircraft represents a 70% share of the regional airliner market.

Embraer's fall, only partially explained by the lack of Embraer 170 deliveries due to the programme slip, is remarkable given that two years ago the company was king of the regional jet sector, delivering 153 ERJs - five more than Bombardier's total CRJ output that year.

Overall, Embraer delivered 101 ERJs in 2003, including 13 ERJ-135-based Legacy business jets and one ERJ-145-based military aircraft. In mid-2003, the Brazilian company had expected to ship its first 170s by the end of that year, but the delay in certification has pushed deliveries to launch customers into 2004. Embraer expects its airliner shipments to head back towards 2001 levels with around 140 deliveries forecast in each of the next two years. Bombardier says it expects output will be "roughly the same" in 2004, suggesting that regional jet output will exceed 2001's record.

The regional jet order backlog has declined slightly over the past 12 months, to around 750 aircraft, and Embraer's sales success, combined with its reduced delivery numbers, has seen its share of the jet backlog increase by 10 percentage points to 57%. Meanwhile, Bombardier's share has slipped from just under half, to around 37%.

ATR and Bombardier recorded further declines in turboprop production and their combined tally of 29 aircraft is around a tenth of annual turboprop output in the mid-1990s, when around 260 aircraft were delivered.

ATR, which last year restructured its production operation to reduce costs and break even, believes its nine-aircraft delivery tally was the trough and is confident output will rise in 2004. Although its order intake has picked up since December, the company ended 2003 with zero net orders.

Bombardier fared slightly better, delivering 19 Dash 8s, and taking net orders for 34 aircraft, giving it a healthy two-thirds market share of backlog for the sector.

The Russian and Ukrainian regional market remains sluggish, with only a handful of Antonov An-140 turboprops delivered in the region. This year will be important for the Sukhoi-led Russian Regional Jet, which needs firm orders as development proceeds.

Source: Flight International