Outlook for Business Jet Market Looking Up

Industry experts say 2013 should mark the bottom of the market and that 2014 should bring a modest upturn.

Another positive sign was a change in mood at the NBAA convention in October. The mood was more positive than during previous conventions since the downturn.

"There was an enthusiasm and optimism that was palpable at the event," Bolen said. "I think there was a sense that most people feel that we are moving off the bottom."

The optimism at the NBAA's convention in Las Vegas carried over to January's NBAA's Schedulers and Dispatchers conference in New Orleans, he said.

The conference had record attendance.

At the same time, aviation-related companies have taken out costs and made adjustments needed to survive the downturn, Bolen said.

Those improvements are hitting the bottom line.

"There is now a sense we're climbing out," Bolen said. "There's a sense we can make it. (Companies have adjusted) for this environment, and as the environment improves, we can improve, too."

Still, "I don't think anyone is expecting huge growth," he said.

The big-jet picture

The turboprop market seems to have recovered, Vincent said. And demand in the large cabin-size jets never really slowed down. Not so for the light and middle part of the market.

"There are too many airplanes chasing too few customers at the light end," Vincent said.

The split in demand between the small and medium jets and the large ones remained apparent last year.

For the first time, Gulfstream, the maker of large, more expensive business jets, outdelivered Cessna. Bombardier also outdelivered Cessna in 2013.

Gulfstream delivered 144 jets last year, up 35 percent from 94 a year ago, Gulfstream said last month.

Bombardier delivered 180 business jets in 2013 -- although deliveries of Learjets, built in Wichita, fell, it said.

Cessna delivered 139 Citations in 2013, down 26.5 percent from 181 the year before.

Bombardier Learjet delivered 29 Learjets last year, down from 39 in 2012.

Bombardier told employees in January that it was cutting 550 Wichita jobs because of the soft market for light and medium jets, product line transitions and some program delays.

Bombardier also paused production on the Learjet 60 roughly a year ago. That pause continues.

"On-going analysis indicates that demand for aircraft in the light segment category is weak," Bombardier spokeswoman Annie Cossette said in an e-mail. "We continue to evaluate the market pending improvement of conditions."

The number of light jets delivered last year declined 17 percent from 2012, according to research firm JetNet. They're down 67 percent from a high in 2008.

Delivery of medium-size jets declined 24 percent in 2013, JetNet said. They're down 69 percent from a high in 2008.

The trend has gone the other way for the large jets, deliveries of which were up 18 percent last year.

During the first nine months of 2013, business jet shipments overall fell 2.1 percent from the same time a year ago, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, which compiles the figures. GAMA will release year-end figures later this month.

Vincent predicts business jet manufacturers will deliver 10 percent more jets this year, or about 710, over 2013 figures.

December deliveries in 2013 would have been stronger had some shipments not slid into January because of the government shutdown, Vincent said.

The two-week shutdown delayed work on certifying new products, such as Cessna's Citation M2 and Sovereign and Learjet's 70 and 75.

"The stuff was in the pipeline," Vincent said. "Some of that work slid into the new year. Had it not slid, I think we could be saying 2013 would be up."

In October, Honeywell's Global Business Aviation Forecast predicted 4 to 5 percent annual growth over 10 years from 2013 to 2022, with deliveries totaling as many as 9,250 during that time.

Aboulafia projects manufacturers will deliver more than 9,500 business jets over the 10 years from 2014 to 2023.

Still, Aboulafia predicts that it will take time for the small and midsize segments of the market to return to its 2008 peak.

"You're probably not going to get back to that peak until 2020," Aboulafia said.

The business jet market in Wichita also changed when Beechcraft decided to exit the market when it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy a year ago.

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