General Aviation (GA) aircraft deliveries increased by 4.3 percent in 2014, with billings reaching $24.5 billion, the second highest total in history, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) year-end shipment and billings report released Wednesday. There were 2,454 GA aircraft delivered last year, which is the industry’s highest total since 2008, although that is still nearly 40 percent lower than the 3,970 aircraft that were shipped that year. While results among different airframe categories were mixed, GAMA President and CEO Pete Bunce said the industry is continuing to move along a positive trajectory seven years after the U.S. economy bottomed out in 2008.
“If you look at the U.S. economy, our economic indicators have all centered around the fact that if we have three consecutive quarters of 3+ percent growth, the industry is going to fare well,” said Bunce at GAMA’s Annual State of the Industry press conference in Washington, D.C. “When you look at the U.S. recovery, it has not been as strong as we all would have hoped. The fourth quarter numbers weren’t as good as what we wanted but the trajectory is positive.”
The highest increase came from the piston engine category, where a total of 1,129 aircraft were shipped, up 9.6 percent from 2013. Business jet shipments also increased by 6.5 percent to 722 deliveries in 2014 compared to 678 in the previous year. But the gains were not all positive, as turboprop shipments dropped from 645 to 603, and rotorcraft shipments were down across all categories, dropping 24 percent from 1,290 to 971 for the year.
“What’s happening in the rotorcraft world? When we have new aircraft that are on the rise and in the development process, we do see somewhat of a dip that happens as people are waiting for aircraft to come out there. Also, I think we’re seeing some impact in 2014 of the political effect in the BRIC countries, especially in Russia as impacting some of the deliveries there,” said Bunce.
Within the business jet segment, the majority of deliveries were of manufacturer’s latest model aircraft. For example, Bombardier delivered 34 total Learjets, and 33 of those were of its newest Learjet 70/75 series. Cessna delivered just eight Mustangs, compared to 46 total deliveries of its new M2 jets.
Deliveries of midsize and super midsize business jets increased from 140 in 2013 to 159 in 2014, and both super light and light jets increased 19 percent from 185 to 220 last year.
The U.S. remains the largest market across all fixed wing segments, accounting for 53 percent of deliveries in 2014, trailed by 16 percent of deliveries going to European operators and 13 percent going to Asia.
“The mixed results among segments indicate that the general aviation manufacturing industry is facing headwinds given the tepid U.S. economic recovery and the political and economic uncertainties in Europe,” said Bunce, adding that inconsistent regulatory interpretations and the complex certification process in the U.S. and Europe remain key barriers to growth in the industry.
Expanding the GA Market Globally
The GAMA CEO and the newly appointed GAMA Chairman, Joe Brown, president of Hartzell Propeller, also made it clear that the GA industry’s focus in 2015 and beyond will be to continue to work with both the FAA and international airworthiness agencies in Europe, Asia and Latin America to continue opening more opportunities beyond North America.
China presents one of the biggest opportunities for GA manufacturers, but the industry there continues to be impeded by the military-controlled airspace. However, in discussions with GAMA, Chinese aviation officials have expressed desires to expand the industry.
“They’re saying all the right things about how much they want to open up,” Bunce said of China. “But you have this thing out there called the People’s Liberation Army that controls the airspace and we all know without airspace and without infrastructure how do you grow it? The Chinese can go and put a factory on the ground and they can port concrete better than probably anybody else but will we have the airspace to fly there? If you look at the piston end, they’ve got to be able to train pilots, if you look on the rotorcraft end, there is a very [good] intention, if you look at their new buildings they have heliports on them so I’m very encouraged there.”
Brown said that one of the key issues toward strengthening the access to the international market for U.S.-based GA manufacturers will be the ability of organizations such as GAMA to achieve more joint validation for airframes, avionics and aircraft components in other countries.
“Beyond Europe, strengthening access in markets for GA, has to do largely, in my mind, with this idea of validations and having our products move freely between countries,” said Brown. “GAMA is addressing this with ever more vigor. A little company like mine over the last two years has obtained 300 validations for our type certificates and [Supplemental Type Certificates] STCs — 300, because we have to go where the market is. That process of getting all these airworthiness agencies to validate my products so an airplane can get sold is getting more and more complex,” he added, noting that GAMA will continue to work with international airworthiness authorities to make the process of obtaining STCs less complex.