Can growing demand from Brazil, Russia, India and China—the so-called “BRIC” economies—come to the rescue of a business aviation industry that is under sustained pressure in its mainstay markets of the U.S. and Europe?
Honeywell's annual buyer survey shows continued strong demand in the BRIC countries over the next five years, while purchase expectations in North America, Western Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific continue to decline.
But the U.S. and Europe remain the biggest buyers and the best the BRIC nations can do is offset the stubborn softness in traditional markets. “Flat is the new up,” joked a Honeywell executive unveiling their latest forecast in October at the National Business Aviation Association convention.
For an industry that suffered a massive collapse in sales after the 2008 global economic downturn—business-jet deliveries dropping from a peak of more than 1,200 that year to around 700 in 2012 (a slight uptick from 2011)—stability is an improvement. Orders are still slow but enough to tempt manufacturers into a cautious restart of their product development pipelines, anticipating a return to growth in 2014-15.
And while volumes remain flat, the value of shipments is growing as the mix of aircraft skews to the higher end. Larger-cabin, longer-range aircraft account for a growing percentage of sales, with BRIC countries China and Russia leading the trend. As a result, while deliveries may never return to the high of 2008, their value could quickly outstrip their past peak once recovery begins.
Forecast International projects production of 4,474 business jets, valued at $109.2 billion, over the five-year period 2013-17. Cessna will account for 28% of deliveries, but Gulfstream's larger aircraft will give it 29% of the value. Bombardier will account for 20% by volume and 25% by value.
BRIC nations Brazil and China have a growing role in business aviation not just as buyers, but manufacturers. Embraer has shaken up the light-jet sector with the Phenom and is targeting the mid-size market with the Legacy 500, which flew in late 2012, and the smaller Legacy 450 a year later.