As we roll into the final weeks of the most successful year in the history of business aviation in terms of manufacturing and sales, there is good news for the future: The Honeywell Business Aviation Outlook, arguably the most respected predictor of what’s to come in our industry, is telling us things are only going to get better. Speaking at a media event that has come to mark the opening of activity at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention, Rob Wilson, president of the Business and General Aviation segment of Honeywell Aerospace presented this year’s version of the forecast. Wilson summed up the situation saying “it’s a good time to be in business aviation.”
This marked the 21st year Honeywell has prepared an Outlook, and the 16th year the company has released its findings to the public. The forecast itself is a massive undertaking. This year Honeywell gathered information from 1,519 corporate flight departments from all over the world, and then factored in data from aircraft manufacturers and other sources Honeywell chooses not to reveal.
Finally a team of experienced Honeywell analysts factor the raw data against economic models the company has fine tuned over the past two decades of generating this survey - and the result is widely accepted as the most reliable indicator of where we can expect the industry to go over the next 10 years.
The truly remarkable thing is that Honeywell gives it away. Ordinarily you might expect to spend hundreds or perhaps even thousands of dollars to gain access to data of this quality, but Honeywell generously shares it with the rest of the industry every year at NBAA Convention time.
So what does the future hold for us? The short term prediction is no surprise: Record deliveries for 2007 and 2008. It’s the long term outlook, however, that’s truly interesting - 14,000 aircraft worth $233 billion (in 2007 constant dollars) between now and 2017.
In addition to record sales, Honeywell is observing a significant sea change in the market for business aviation products – a shifting of the market from sales occurring predominantly in North America to one where the majority of sales are distributed more evenly all over the world. This isn’t the first time this change has been observed - it’s been coming for some time. What’s significant, however, is that the change is happening much faster than anyone had predicted.
A year ago Honeywell was forecasting that 40 percent of all the business jets sold in the next five years would go to customers outside North America. Today Honeywell is upping that number to 50 percent. Moreover, the 50 percent is happening right now. Honeywell says most of the jet manufacturers are reporting that more than half their new orders are coming from customers outside North America, representing a huge shift from five years ago, when nearly 70 percent of all business jets (and all the other classes of general aviation airplanes as well) were being bought by North American customers.
The 70-to-30 ratio of North American sales to deliveries elsewhere wasn’t just a passing trend. The market had looked like that for more than 40 years, varying by just a few percentage points from year to year, usually dependent on the ebb and flow of exchange rates. So truly we are looking at an enormous cultural and economic change in our industry. It is a change that will probably be permanent, and it is taking place very rapidly right before our eyes.
Years from now, aviation historians will likely point to these years we are living in now as a significant benchmark – one of those timeframes when everything that went before will be seen as part of one definable era, and everything that comes afterwards will be seen as representing something new and quite different. That’s a very big deal.
Not only is the market shifting, it is also expanding at a remarkable rate. Honeywell is forecasting deliveries of 1,000 business jets this year; up from the 861 it recorded in 2006. It is forecast that an amazing 1,300 jets will be delivered next year. “Oh”, you may say, “that’s just the addition of the Very Lights Jets (VLJs) to the market”. No, it isn’t. The 1,300 units Honeywell is forecasting are in the traditional categories it has been reporting for many years.
Both the VLJs and airliner-class business jets are treated separately in Honeywell’s estimates. That may also account for slight differences in the size of the jet market between what Honeywell counts and what the General Aviation Manufacturers Association reports. By Honeywell’s count there were 861 total business jet deliveries last year, compared with GAMA’s total of 885). Either way, that’s a lot of jets. The estimates in Honeywell’s forecast have also been growing. Two years ago Honeywell was expecting jet deliveries to top out in the 750-unit range in 2008 and 2009, and then settle back a little with the expectation of a slight cooling of the economy in the market sometime around the turn of the decade.
Last year Honeywell ratcheted up their expectations to a market that could potentially reach 1,000 in the 2008-2009 timeframe. Now they’re expecting us to reach 1,000 this year – a near certainty based on the GAMA numbers for the first six months – and an incredible 1,300 next year.
Yet, even that’s not the top! Honeywell’s chart for predicted jet sales between now and 2017 shows the market peaking in the 2010-2011 timeframe with approximately 1,400 units, then settling back into the 1,200-unit range for about three years before surging back into the 1,400s by the end of the forecast period in 2017. So even with the slight downturn that Honeywell is telling us will come in a couple of years, the market won’t be any worse than it is right now. In other words, even the bad news is pretty good.
It is interesting to note that Honeywell’s forecast summary predicts 14,000 new business jet deliveries between 2007 and 2017. That means new jet deliveries will average 1,272 units per year throughout the 11-year period. That’s a very optimistic forecast for an industry that up to now has never delivered 1,000 business jets in one year.
Honeywell’s optimism is being driven by the reports coming back from the jet manufacturers. During the first half of this year the jet builders took more than 900 orders for new aircraft – approximately twice the rate at which they were delivering airplanes. Honeywell now estimates the industry backlog to be approximately 2.5 years of production. It’s pretty clear that the only thing standing in the way of a 1,300-unit jet market this year is the industry’s inability to build airplanes that fast. So, yes, barring some cataclysmic event that no one foresees, we are in the midst of a golden age in business jet manufacturing and sales. And Honeywell sees it continuing for at least the next decade.
Honeywell attributes much of this growth to increasing value in the products being offered by the jet manufacturers. “Value to the operator takes the form of improved aircraft reliability, mission flexibility, cabin productivity, comfort and convenience,” Wilson said, pointing out that increases in purchase plans and subsequent aircraft delivery rates tend to follow the introduction of new aircraft models. He added that improved engines, safety systems, avionics and cabin amenities stimulate demand even further.
Not only is the market continuing to grow, but it is growing faster than previously predicted. A year ago Honeywell was expecting 26 percent of the existing jet fleet to be expanded or replaced over the next five years. This year the forecast says the equivalent of 33 percent of the fleet will be expanded or replaced, with the greatest percentage of this growth expected in the international markets.
Compared with last year’s survey, five-year purchase expectations rose most strongly in Asia, Africa and in the Middle East. This is the fifth consecutive year of the survey in which this geographic segment has led the percentage-of-growth expectations – at least in part because the existing fleet is comparatively small. Honeywell says it recorded the highest growth expectation readings in the history of its survey this year in the Asia, Africa and Middle East segment of the market, with numbers for expansion or replacement exceeding 50 percent. At least part of this growth expectation is based on high oil prices fueling Middle Eastern and selected African economies.
In Europe the increase was also remarkable, Honeywell reported, with 46 percent of the jet fleet likely to be expanded or replaced in the next five years. Wilson cited the strength of the Euro against the U.S. dollar, as well as increased wealth and business expansion predicted for Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union as factors driving the European growth.
Expectations are also high in Latin America, where 38 percent of the fleets are likely to be expanded or replaced in the immediate five-year period. Honeywell said this was a sharp increase over a year ago, again largely driven by increased oil prices, particularly in the markets of Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil. The numbers could be even higher, but Honeywell said some survey respondents in Latin America continue to cite concerns about political instability in some countries as a reason to defer purchases.
North American market growth lagged well behind other parts of the world, with the survey showing that only about 20 percent of the fleet forecast to be expanded or replaced in the next five years.
In any other era that would be a respectable growth rate, but in the current market it looks pretty tepid. Interestingly, it is actually down slightly – about one percentage point – from last year’s survey.
Wilson pointed to slower economic growth and recent credit and stock market fluctuations as growth inhibitors in the U.S. market. He also listed concerns about high fuel costs, user fees and ease-of-use issues such as Temporary Flight Restrictions as reasons for the North American market performing below the rest of the world. Even so, the current North American fleet constitutes about 70 percent of the world’s business jets, so a 20-percent growth still represents the sale of a lot of airplanes. Honeywell expresses all these growth estimates as a percentage of existing fleet size. If everything comes to pass as expected, the market over the next five years will be distributed about like this: North America – 49 percent; Europe – 22 percent; Asia – 15 percent; Latin America – 10 percent; Africa and the Middle East – four percent.
As the market continues to expand, the growth is likely to be distributed fairly evenly among the various classes of business jets, according to Honeywell’s research. Not included in Honeywell’s Very Light category are many of the airplanes traditionally categorized as VLJs, including the Eclipse 500, Adam 700, Diamond Jet, Cirrus Jet, and the Piper Jet. Instead, Honeywell lists these in a new category, Personal Jets, which will also include whatever new entries might emerge, such as the Eclipse concept airplane shown at this year’s Oshkosh AirVenture event.
Honeywell says there could be a market for 6,000 to 7,000 aircraft in this category over the next 10 years, over and above the 14,000 traditional category airplanes its forecast is predicting. Also not included in Honeywell’s totals are the airliner-based Business Liners, although the forecast does offer a prediction – about 250 units by the end of 2017, with deliveries averaging better than 20 units per year.
In summary, then, Honeywell has done extensive research and, based on everything it has learned, believes we are in for the most spectacular decade in the history of business aviation. It will be fascinating to see how the future plays out.