General Aviation Manufacturers Set Another Record

For the first time the total value of general aviation airplanes delivered in 2007 broke through the $20 billion mark. Thanks to a 28 percent increase in business jet shipments, and an 11 percent growth in the numbers of turboprops, total billings by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association were $21.9 billion worldwide, up a whopping 16.5 percent from the 2006 figure. A total of 4,272 airplanes were shipped last year, giving the average airplane a value of more than $5 million.

The only downbeat news in the GAMA report was a 2.9 percent decline in the number of piston-powered airplanes delivered in 2007. That total number slipped from 2,755 to 2,675. Part of the explanation is a slowdown in deliveries at Columbia while Cessna was completing its acquisition of that company. Also, in past economic downturns piston airplane sales slowed long before there was any measurable dip in jet and turboprop deliveries.

About 35 percent of all general aviation airplanes built in the United States were exported, but every turbine manufacturer reports that international sales booked in 2007 topped 50 percent, and in the case of Hawker Beechcraft reached 60 percent, so in future years international deliveries will be a majority. The general aviation industry is one of the few U.S. industries that is a net exporter, and as other manufacturing sectors of the economy slumped the GA industry workforce grew by nearly 10 percent.

GAMA reported that 3,279 new airplanes were manufactured in the United States in 2007 with a total billing of nearly $12 billion. That number of deliveries is small compared to the boom years after World War II, and again in the 1970s, but is the largest number of airplanes delivered in 25 years.

The huge increase in billings comes from the popularity of business jets, particularly the large cabin models. For example, Gulfstream delivered 138 total jets in 2007, and 79 were its large cabin models. Those airplanes fetched $4.8 billion, the highest total for any U.S. manufacturer. And the popular models of business jets from all manufacturers are sold out for more than a year, and many are backlogged as much as three years.

With orders placed in 2007 running far ahead of deliveries the future looks bright for general aviation, but GAMA is concerned about the possible impact of FAA reauthorization and the potential of user fees; new possible environmental restrictions; and progress in air traffic modernization. Of course, the state of the global economy looms over the entire activity, but GAMA members reported that orders for new turbine airplanes were holding solid.