The market for large business jets has fared remarkably well in recent years, despite the global recession, as a new generation of buyers in Russia, China or Brazil has been won over by the sleek appeal of speedy and luxurious planes that can connect most points in the world without stopping for fuel.
But there are now signs of a slowdown in the private jet market. The oil and commodities collapse and the slowdown in emerging markets over the past two years has put a dent in demand, particularly from emerging countries.
“Clearly, as the global economy continues to soften, the business aviation industry has felt that impact,” said Brian Sill, the president of commercial aviation for Honeywell Aerospace, a major provider of avionics, engines and other components. “There are some headwinds in the world right now, in places like China, and in Russia, and those are being felt in the industry.”
Last year, new plane sales reached about $22 billion, with 712 new jets delivered, according to Rolland Vincent, an aviation consultant and market researcher.
The market this year should soften, with projected sales of 680 jets. Large planes account for over half of all business jet purchases each year, and for 80 percent of the industry’s sales value, given the much higher prices they can command. “It’s always been a cyclical business and people tend to forget this in the good times,” Mr. Vincent said.
Still, the appeal of private jets remains strong, particularly in the category of bigger jets with larger cabins that can fly farther than ever without stopping for fuel.
These jets remain a staple of corporate fleets in the United States and are prized by hedge fund managers and venture capitalists looking for bragging rights. As demand slows down in Asia and the Middle East, it is picking up in North America, where buyers are looking for deals in the previously owned market.
The appetite for size and speed is behind the global success of the Gulfstream G650, a $65-million twin-engine jet with a top speed of 610 miles per hour (982 kilometers per hour) and range of 7,000 nautical miles (13,000 kilometers), along with rivals like the Bombardier’s Global 5000 and the Dassault Falcon 7X.
These planes can effortlessly link New York to Beijing or London to Los Angeles in a dozen or so hours while offering great comfort and luxurious amenities — like leather chairs, oversized windows, and wood paneling. They offer the “billionaire class” and top corporate leaders a shortcut from commercial flying with none of the hassles of regular air travel.
Cabins are pressurized at half the levels of commercial airplanes, which means less dryness and fatigue and more comfortable trips. High-speed Internet is readily available for streaming movies or conducting video conferences. Pilots have heads-up displays that allow them to see obstacles even when visibility is low.
“The great beauty is that people can really get somewhere nonstop they couldn’t get to before,” said Mr. Vincent. “These people want to be very discreet, and going direct nonstop is a big deal for them. They save time and save the hardships of being observed. It’s a privacy and security issue for them.”
Chad Anderson, the president of Jetcraft, a trader, investor and brokerage company, summed up the appeal of business jets as “range, comfort, and a general sensibility to operating economics.”
“The globalization of the world isn’t getting any less global,” said Mr. Anderson. “It’s getting more global. There is more demand to go international. There are also more and more sensitivities to security and safety.”
Honeywell, which has conducted market surveys for more than three decade, forecast about 9,200 deliveries of new jets through 2025, worth a total $270 billion. The company also expects that deliveries in 2016 will be slightly lower this year than last year, but it sees a sharp rebound after 2017 as new jets come on the market.
Analysts pointed out that, while demand was slowing in Asia and elsewhere, the market for jets in the United States and North America generally — which accounts for more than half global sales — had picked up.
Planes that were sold to Chinese buyers five or six years ago are returning on the second-hand market in the United States.
“We have what used to be an eastward-heading market heading west again,” said Mr. Anderson. “We’re seeing more corporate buyers here in the U.S. right now, primarily in the replacement market.”
Many corporate fleets had put their replacement plans on hold in recent years and now find the need to renew their planes.
“Aircraft values are still pretty depressed in historical terms, but in the eyes of astute buyers that’s an opportunity,” Mr. Anderson said.
Estimates about the future vary. Mr. Vincent expects to see 7,900 jets delivered in the next 10 years. He recently reduced his forecast by six to seven percent because of current market dynamics. In addition, analysts point out that there’s a long list of new planes to pick from for buyers seeking their first plane or looking for a replacement option.
“The polish has come off some of the legacy models that have been in the market for a while, and customers are migrating to the new models,” said Mr. Vincent.
The top three major manufacturers all have a new plane at various stage of development and certification.
Dassault’s new tri-engine Falcon 8X, which is close to certification, recently completed a round-the-world demonstration tour covering 55,000 nautical miles and over 60 flights, ahead of its anticipated entry into service in the second half of this year.
The airplane, estimated to cost about $58 million, made its debut at the 2015 Paris Air Show, and provides more range that its predecessor, the 7X. It would be able to reach Beijing from Los Angeles.
That model will be followed by the Falcon 5X, a twin-engine plane. That aircraft, expected to be delivered in 2020, will have less range than the other variants but comes with a more spacious cabin because of its larger fuselage volume.
The plane will also have what is widely believed to be the first-ever skylight in an aircraft.
At Gulfstream, the new G500 and G600 are currently in early production and testing stages, and should come out of the production lines in 2018.
Chasing them both in terms of delivery time is Canada’s Bombardier, whose production of the new Global 7000 and Global 8000 have been delayed at least two years and should come into service, respectively, in 2018 and 2019.
In addition, there’s a crop of new planes coming on the market, starting with the newest addition to the list of business jet manufactures, Honda Aircraft, which recently delivered the first HondaJet in Europe after receiving its flight certification last year.
Others include the Pilatus PC-24, a six-passenger midrange jet that is being developed by Pilatus Aircraft in Switzerland and had its first flight last year, with deliveries expected in 2017.
The second half of next year should also see the certification and first delivery of the Cessna Citation Latitude, from Textron Aviation.
“There are several major new platforms in development, and we are very excited about that, because it always creates a lift for the industry,” said Mr. Sill of Honeywell.
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