Business aircraft manufacturers experienced checkered results in 2012. The industry delivered 69 fewer aircraft than in 2011, but there was a 10+% spike in turboprop deliveries, mainly due to a significant increase in the number of ag aircraft shipments. Last year, however, piston-engine aircraft shipments declined by 1.9% and there was a 3.4% drop in turbofan aircraft deliveries, continuing a four-year downward trend. Overall, there were only 13 more general aviation aircraft delivered in 2012 than in 2011.

But that's only part of the story. As in 2010 and 2011, long-range, large-cabin business aircraft fared better than makes of smaller turbofan aircraft. Bombardier delivered 92 large-cabin jets, Dassault shipped 66 Falcon Jets and Gulfstream moved 83 large-cabin models. Airbus had nine corporate jet deliveries and Boeing shipped a dozen jetliners for conversion, including eight 747-8 head-of-state jumbo jets. More importantly, the book-to-bill backlog ratio improved for most large-cabin aircraft makers, providing them with healthy near-term revenue streams and helping to shore up asking prices. Notably, less than half of these shipments were to customers in North America.

Shipments of light, midsize and super-midsize aircraft remain flat, if not falling. Most acutely, the bankruptcy of Hawker Beechcraft Corp. witnessed the shutdown of the Premier IA and Hawkers 400XP, 900XP and 4000 production lines. So, those models are being dropped from our Purchase Planning Handbook this year. Cessna fared marginally better, but it delivered only three more Citations in 2012 than it did in 2010. Deliveries of Embraer's Phenom 300 were up by six units, but Phenom 100 shipments fell to their lowest level since entry into service in 2008. Sales of the Bombardier Learjet 40XR and 45XR also have been flat for the last few years.

So, light and midsize business aircraft manufacturers are refreshing their model lines to help reinvigorate sales activity. Several new models are making their debut in this year's Handbook. Bombardier is discontinuing its 40XR and 45XR in favor of the Learjet 70 and 75, a pair of second-generation Model 45 aircraft that will enter service in the first half of this year. They're fitted with more powerful Honeywell TFE731-40BR turbofans, Vision flight decks featuring Garmin G5000 flat-panel avionics and new winglets, among other aerodynamic refinements. Increased engine thrust and winglets will shave at least 12% off TOFL, along with improving climb performance and boosting range.

Cessna's second-generation Citation Sovereign also is making its first appearance in the Handbook. It features a new Garmin G5000 avionics suite borrowed from the new Citation X, plus a stretched wing, more powerful and repositioned Pratt & Whitney Canada turbofans, slightly more fuel capacity, and higher takeoff and landing weights. The upgraded Sovereign has more tanks-full payload, improved runway performance and increased range compared to the original model. Its enhanced range and payload make it more competitive with some super-midsize jets.

The Embraer Legacy 500 is one of the new super-midsize jets against which the new Sovereign will compete. With full developmental and certification flight tests now under way, the Brazilian jet is making its first appearance in this year's Handbook. It has impressive credentials, including being the first business aircraft in this size range to be fitted with fly-by-wire (FBW) flight controls. The three-axis digital FBW system has a full range of high-level control laws to ease pilot workload, to provide flight envelope protection and to improve passenger ride comfort.

The Legacy 500 is powered by a pair of 6,540-lb.-thrust Honeywell HTF7500E engines that enable it to fly four passengers at least 3,000 nm. Maximum cabin altitude is 6,000 ft. and the cabin has a flat floor as well as a forward galley with sink. The flight deck features Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics with four 15.1-in. displays. The passenger compartment is equipped with Honeywell's Ovation Select cabin management system.

New models in other sectors are making their debut this year. GA8 Airvan (Pty) Ltd.'s piston single GA-8 Airvan, offered in both normally aspirated and turbocharged versions, is an eight-seat, high-utility hauler that is gaining popularity with air tour and law enforcement operators. Beechcraft is introducing the King Air 300HW, short for "heavy weight," that features a 1,500-lb. increase in MTOW for operators who need to fill the tanks and fill the seats with 300+ lb. passengers. Most 350HW customers, though, are more likely to pull out the seats and use the aircraft to carry 3,600+ lb. of freight with full tanks.

The Falcon 2000LXS is a large-cabin aircraft that's appearing for the first time in the Handbook. Similar to the Falcon 2000S, it is equipped with the Falcon 900LX's high-lift system, including full span leading edge slats, recalibrated trailing edge flaps and Aviation Partners winglets. The result is an aircraft that retains the Falcon 2000LX's cruise speed, range and fuel efficiency while offering considerably better takeoff performance.

This year's Handbook, though, reflects the realities of the current market. Looking closely, readers will notice that several OEMs, especially light jet makers such as Embraer, have sharpened their pencils when quoting prices. Most manufacturers held down price increases to 2-3% for 2013.

In the long term, though, the U.S. economy seems to be on the mend and that bodes well for an improvement in new aircraft sales. Research conducted by Bessemer Trust, a firm that derives 98% of its revenues from providing wealth management services to high-net-worth individuals and families, indicates that the U.S. housing market improved markedly in the second half of 2012. Inventories are drying up, prices are firming and new housing starts are increasing. Bessemer Trust executives believe that a world economic recovery very much is dependent upon an improvement in the U.S. housing market.

Improvements in the housing sector in turn influence upticks in the purchase of household appliances and home improvement items. That won't create many manufacturing jobs in the U.S., but it will help to stimulate manufacturing in Asia, particularly in China and South Korea as well as other parts of the developing world. As those economies improve, demand for commodities and petroleum will increase.

Gas and oil shale exploration is booming in the U.S., fueling a rebound in the energy sector. Notably, Bessemer Trust projects that the U.S. will actually surpass Saudi Arabia as the world's largest crude oil producer in 2013. Natural gas is becoming so plentiful in the U.S. that gas exports are expected to boom.

Bessemer Trust management also holds hope that Washington politicians will see the necessity of reaching a compromise on taxes and spending that will break the chronic gridlock and make most Americans more confident about the nation's future. But political polarization and campaign spending are at an all-time high, so there are significant challenges for politicians seeking a middle ground.

Last year, only large-cabin OEMs were smiling. This year, manufacturers of smaller business aircraft are more confident about improving sales trends.

Most manufacturers now are poised to ride out the rest of the storm as the economy struggles to recover. China and the Asia-Pacific region now account for nearly 12% of new aircraft sales, with Brazil and Latin America in close trail, according to GAMA statistics. The Middle East and Africa have fallen off to slightly more than 6% of the market. By the end of the decade, the future looks much brighter for business aircraft sales in North America and Europe. But the halcyon days of 1,200 to 1,300 new business jet deliveries per year may be gone forever. The new normal is expected to be 600 to 700 shipments per annum for several years to come.

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In BCA's digital edition of the Purchase Planning Handbook readers will find the “How to Use the Airplane Charts,” which is an explanation of how we calculate the data that appears in the Airplane Tables. Also in the digital edition is a complete listing of Regional Aircraft.