In the face of a slowing U.S. economy, the general aviation industry posted another record year in 2007 with billings topping $ 20 billion and business jet deliveries surpassing the 1,000 mark for the first time, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. During GAMA´s Annual Industry Review and Market Outlook Briefing Tuesday in Washington, D.C., GAMA Chairman and Cirrus Design Corp. Chairman and CEO Alan Klapmeier reported that the general aviation industry combined for $ 21.9 billion in billings with 4,272 aircraft shipped last year.
Klapmeier credited the strength in international markets for the continued growth, and expressed optimism that buyer interest outside the U.S., coupled with healthy backlogs and the introduction of new products, will continue to buoy the industry. "As these economies continue to expand, we expect general aviation to play an ever increasing role," he said. "Manufacturer backlogs are strong and we think this bodes well for 2008 and beyond."
Industry billings were up 16.5 percent over the $ 18.8 billion reported in 2006. Deliveries increased 5.4 percent, marking the highest level in more than a quarter century, Klapmeier said.
Business jet deliveries reached 1,138, a 28.4 percent jump from the 886 shipped in 2006. Nearly all classes of business jets showed gains with large cabin aircraft makers such as Gulfstream, Bombardier and Dassault together shipping almost 50 more aircraft last year than they did in 2006. The 2007 results also reflected the first significant wave of Very Light Jet deliveries, with Eclipse shipping 98 of its Eclipse 500s and Cessna delivering 45 Mustangs - together accounting for 12.5 percent of total industry jet deliveries.
Turboprop deliveries were at their highest level since 1981, Klapmeier said. GA manufacturers shipped 459 turboprop aircraft in 2007, up 11.4 percent over the 412 in 2006. French plane-maker Socata continued to enjoy a strong market for its speedy TBM 850 single turboprop and deliveries of the Cessna Caravan utility airplane picked up pace. A newcomer to the market, Quest Aircraft, handed over the first of its Kodiak 100 utility aircraft last year. The market improvement also included twin turboprops, with Hawker Beechcraft delivering 17 more King Airs.
The only dip in the market came in the piston segment as manufacturers shipped 2.9 percent fewer airplanes in 2007. Columbia Aircraft, which entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection before being sold to Cessna, delivered 33 fewer aircraft in 2007. Several other single-piston makers - including Cessna, Piper and Hawker Beechcraft - experienced a decline in their various single-engine product lines.
But Klapmeier expressed confidence that the piston-powered aircraft market would remain stable, particularly as international orders grow. The piston aircraft market traditionally has been considered a leading indicator of GA susceptibility to economic downturns in the U.S., he said, but it now may become a trailing indicator as new people enter aviation from previously untapped regions of the world.
GAMA estimated that the economies of emerging markets are growing at rates that are three to four times that of the U.S. economy, and U.S. GA exports jumped 28.2 percent in 2007. Europe accounted for almost 25 percent of the business jet market in 2007, he noted.
This international growth helped fuel a book-to-bill ratio of 1.9 for business jets and helped bolster the estimated industry backlog to $ 58.1 billion - almost three times the amount manufacturers billed in 2007.
Klapmeier also pointed to the employment base as another sign of the strength of the industry. While U.S. employment overall was down .8 percent in 2007, U.S. GA manufacturers increased their employment base by 9.8 percent.