Business-Jet Makers Predict Sales Rebound
January 22, 2014
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  • Two of the world’s largest makers of business jets on Wednesday forecast that new models would help drive double-digit sales gains this year, though they don’t expect an immediate recovery in a market that is halved from its peak in 2008.

    Executives from General Dynamics Corp. GD 0.00% , owner of Gulfstream Inc., and Cessna parent Textron Inc. TXT -0.55% on Wednesday stopped short of calling a bottom to the five-year slide in jet sales, though pointed to solid demand and a declining inventory of used aircraft.

    Business-jet makers have been battling the twin challenges of tight corporate travel budgets over the past five years and the negative perception of private-plane ownership created by some U.S. lawmakers during the financial crisis.

    “I see signs of a bottoming out,” said Jordan Hansell, chief executive of Columbus, Oh.-based NetJets Inc., which sells fliers part ownership in a fleet of more than 700 planes. The unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. BRKB -1.53% placed $17.6 billion in orders for new jets in anticipation of a recovery.

    Mr. Hansell said its U.S. flying rose 9% to just shy of 335,000 hours last year, with gains in sales to individuals, small and medium-size businesses and large corporations.

    Another sign of the recovery is traffic at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, one of the world’s largest for corporate aviation, where business is on track to return to 2008 levels. Aircraft movements were up 5% through the end of November from a year earlier, having fallen in four of the six previous years.

    Global corporate jet shipments peaked at 1,315 in 2008, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, a U.S.-based trade group. Deliveries had fallen to 672 by 2012, and were down 2.1% through the end of November last year, the latest data available.

    Gulfstream—the world’s largest business-jet manufacturer by sales—had its strongest quarterly performance in two years in the final three months of 2013, and forecasts revenue to rise 11% this year. The company, which specializes in large and midsize jets seating up to eight passengers and four crew that can fly from the U.S. to Asia, expects to deliver 158 jets this year compared with 139 in 2013.

    “Gulfstream is the primary growth engine for both [company] earnings and revenue,” said General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic on a post-earnings call Wednesday.

    Textron, which is more focused on the “light” jet segment that has suffered the largest sales declines, expects its revenue to climb 19% this year as it rolls out more new models. The company received approval last month from regulators to start delivering its Citation M2 and Citation Sovereign+ jets, and is awaiting clearance for the Citation 10 aircraft.

    Gulfstream, Bombardier Inc. and Embraer SA are also rolling out new aircraft, some of them kitted out with more advanced entertainment and communications systems than existing models, as well as cabins that are quieter and more humid.

    “What we’re seeing—in the U.S. and Europe—is an appetite for these newer planes,” said Mr. Hansell.

    Textron shares closed up 5.3% at $38 on what analysts viewed as a more bullish outlook for the Cessna business.

    “The dynamic is [that] new products matter a lot,” said Textron Chief Executive Scott Donnelly on a post-earnings call.