DUBAI, UAE – The small impact of global economic turmoil and regional political unrest on business jet sales in the Middle East demonstrates just how insulated buyers in this region are from the rest of the world.
But this is not to say that the upheaval of recent months has passed the corporate and private jet sector by. Europe’s economic troubles and the overall slow recovery globally are leadingto give more credence to its “downturn” market forecast for business aviation rather than a rosier projection.
Embraer has long said the market from 2012 to 2021 could see deliveries of 11,275 executive aircraft if a strong rebound occurs, or 9,125 if growth is more anemic. Several months ago, the company put forth a more optimistic forecast. Claudio Camelier, vice president for executive aviation market and product strategy, now says, “Given how we see the world economy, the ‘downturn scenario’ is the most likely one.”
Similarly,Falcon Jet’s president/CEO, John Rosanvallon, says that while 2011 has been somewhat disappointing when it comes to signs of a rebound, there is still hope that next year will be better, particularly in the U.S., where companies may start replenishing fleets. “Clearly, the economic uncertainties are penalizing our market,” he says.
Sales of new aircraft also have been depressed by the large number of relatively young business jets for sale. However, Olivier Villa, senior vice president for civil aircraft at Dassault Aviation, says there are finally signs that the secondhand inventory is gradually coming down.
This year will likely be the nadir in the recent decline of business jet deliveries globally, Embraer projects, with 600-700 aircraft handed over, almost half the peak reached in 2008. Under the “downturn scenario,” the industry will only be approaching that peak again by 2021.
An uncertainty still hanging over the market is when sales activities in the Middle East and North Africa will pick up after more than a year of political tumult. The markets that were affected will return, but “when, I am not sure,” says Colin Steven, Embraer vice president for executive aviation sales in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. That sentiment is echoed by Rosanvallon, who adds, “We need to wait a little longer.”
ButPresident Larry Flynn puts a more positive spin on things, saying the effect of the Arab Spring “was not nearly as much as expected,” with only a few cancellations and “surprisingly minimal” disruptions.
The situation in Egypt has been the most damaging for business aircraft makers, simply because it is the largest market in the Middle East. Fighting in Libya also derailed some deals.
One reason the Middle East has remained a good market for many aircraft makers, though, is the preference of buyers there for larger business jets, which has helped that market sector hold up better than the midsize and smaller aircraft segments. The Middle East is the most important market for– it has sold more than half of its 170 airliner-based corporate jets in that region since the mid-1980s. “The billionaire is not suffering as much as the millionaire,” says Airbus Corporate Jet’s head of sales, Francois Chazelle.
The story is similar for other aircraft makers. More than half of the 10 Embraer Lineage 1000s ordered to date were purchased by operators based in this region – five in the United Arab Emirates and one in Kuwait. Rosanvallon notes that more than half of Dassault’s backlog of 10 aircraft in the Middle East is for his company’s largest model, the Falcon 7X.
Similarly, Gulfstream has seen its Middle East/Africa fleet grow to 148 aircraft last year from 97 in 2006. Worldwide, that market has risen to 7% of the company’s activity, up from 6% a decade ago. Although the increase seems small, it is calculated on a worldwide base that has expanded from 1,000 to 2,000 aircraft, Flynn says.
But Rosanvallon points out that the Middle East is not the only region with increasing sales. This year, China will be the largest market for Dassault for the first time. In fact, sales there surpass those in the U.S. and Europe combined. The focus is also on large aircraft: 75% of orders from China are for the Falcon 7X.
Chazelle points out that the Middle East and China are not the only improving markets. “The Russians are coming back,” he notes. “They were absent over the past two years.”