An Industry Looks Ahead

In Atlanta, chains express ‘guarded optimism’; the aftermarket gains strength; the role of international grows

ATLANTA — Perhaps the biggest news out of this year’s annual convention of the National Business Aviation Association was an uplift in spirit — people are looking forward again after two turbulent economic years. Overall attendance numbers were up over 2009, at 24,206.

Like 2009, the U.S. aircraft manufacturers offered little fanfare, with the biggest news being the introduction of the Cessna Citation Ten, an upgrade of the Citation X; and Gulfstream’s G650 made its first public appearance.

While Wichita found little relief, Brazilian manufacturer Embraer received an order, valued at $1 billion, from fractional provider NetJets for some 300 Phenom 300 light jets. Embraer will deliver a Platinum Edition of the Phenom which seats eleven. Indicative of the growing role international business aviation is playing in the sector, NetJets estimates that some 20 percent of the new units will eventually be based in Europe.

Meanwhile, another light jet manufacturer, Eclipse, which dominated much discussion at some past NBAAs, received positive news with the announcement that Sikorsky Aircraft plans to take a minority stake in the OEM. Terms were not disclosed.

Activity up at the FBO chains
Among the fixed base operator (FBO) community, interviews with the CEOs of the top global chains — Signature Flight Support, Atlantic Aviation, and Million Air — show an uptick in overall business activity and an openness to new growth opportunities.

Signature Flight Support announced a licensing agreement with Starlink in Montreal in which the FBO will now carry the Signature brand. When asked if such licensing agreements would be a new major focus for the chain, CEO Michael Scheeringa responded, “I wouldn’t say we’re more focused on anything. We’re focused on the appropriate opportunities — what percolates to the top? We actually had our first conversation with Montreal over a year ago [at last year’s NBAA] regarding licensing.”

Scheeringa says Signature is looking for new opportunities both in the U.S. and globally. “We think that there’s probably a footprint of approximately 300 airports around the world that make sense carrying the Signature brand.”

When asked his perspective on the market today Scheeringa responds, “I would say guarded optimism. The entire industry saw an uplift in the first four months of the year; and then a leveling off over the summer. That continued through Labor Day. September and early October showed signs of growth in the market. The best way to describe it may be a slow pullout.”

Lou Pepper, president of Atlantic Aviation, comments, “There was an increased amount of enthusiasm; a bit of optimism. I think there’s a big ‘whew’; we’re ok now.

“Our activity overall mirrors what industry and FAA are saying; we’re seeing about the same increases in overall activity. There’s a pickup; it’s not a tsunami but it’s certainly well off the lows of last year.

“Southern California has come back with a vengeance; San Jose has done extremely well this year. On the other coast, Teterboro has had a strong year and we’re optimistic about it going forward. The big markets have come back pretty well; some of the smaller markets are lagging.”

Pepper says Atlantic is still open to growth by acquisition, but the financial markets have been slow to pull out of their stall. “Price expectations got a bit out of whack,” he says.
At Million Air, the ever-bullish Roger Woolsey says, “Things are good, though we’re not back in the heyday of three years ago. You certainly see everybody starting to get lift. Our sales continue to increase.

“The margins in the FBO business have been taking a lot of pressure. As an aircraft owner and pilot myself, I like that; it’s a bit less expensive to fly because of the price of fuel. On the other hand, as a service provider I see the other side.

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