The US aerospace industry ended 1996 with increases in sales, orders and its workforce, representing the first rise in fortunes since the recession began in 1991.

The improvement is expected to be followed by further growth in 1997, according to the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA).

At its peak in 1991, the industry had achieved sales of more than $139 billion, but by 1995 that had slumped to a decade low of $106 billion. The AIA estimates that sales were on the rise again in 1996, giving a preliminary estimate of a 6% increase, to $112 billion. That is expected to jump by another 11% in1997 to reach $125 billion.

Despite the better news, AIA president Don Fuqua comments that the last decade "-has been one of wrenching transitions and brutal changes", which has nevertheless produced "-increased competitiveness and savings to the US Government".

The surge in sales largely stems from the recovery across civil markets. AIA estimates that Boeing and McDonnell Douglas delivered 271 aircraft worth close to $19 billion in 1996, and predicts that that figure will soar to 415 units, worth $29 billion, in the coming year. The two companies have a combined order backlog close to breaking the $100 billion mark, which has not been breached since 1991.

Military-aircraft sales also increased in 1996 as a rise in foreign deliveries, which fed through from the surge in orders following the 1990-1 Gulf War, helped to offset a decline in US defence spending. Sales are expected to fall again in 1997, while the long-term slump in missiles is due to continue. The US Department of Defense is projected to buy $38 billion worth of weapons from US arms makers in 1996, accounting for about one-third of the industry's total business, down from 56% in 1987.

US aerospace employment in 1996 rose by 20,000 jobs, bringing the total to 806,000. This is due to rise again by 2%,to 825,000, in the coming year, led by the civil-aircraft-industry surge, which will add another 17,000 direct jobs and 3,000 in related industries. The military-aircraft sector is due to cut 2,000 workers however.

Source: Flight International