Business Aviation’s 'V-Shaped' Rebound

Credit: Brett Schauf/ShowNews

The National Business Aviation Association is convening in Las Vegas for its signature event amid new optimism about the industry’s future and a sense that the COVID-19 pandemic is generating unprecedented interest in private aviation.

“NBAA kicks off tomorrow, and we expect a buoyant mood,” J.P. Morgan analyst Seth Seifman wrote in a note to his clients. Those sentiments were echoed again and again by industry leaders during a series of press conferences on Oct. 11 that preceded the event’s formal opening.

Overall flying activity is higher than it was pre-pandemic and “the secondhand inventory is at historical lows,” says Eric Trappier, Dassault Aviation chairman and CEO.

Michael Amalfitano, president and CEO of Embraer Executive Jets, estimates the number of new buyers coming to the marketplace is triple what it was before the pandemic.  “Users are engaging with business aviation more so now since the last couple of years of the pandemic than ever before in the history of our industry,” he says. “The key focus is recognizing that there's this huge opportunity of customers who have entered the marketplace. The user base is up over 50% what it used to be pre-pandemic levels, and when you look at buyers—whether it be folks who are coming to buy a new aircraft or a preowned aircraft—it is up over 35%.”

Michael Amalfitano
Michael Amalfitano, president and CEO of Embraer Executive Jets. Credit: Brett Schauf/ShowNews

Florida-based Embraer Executive Jets had record sales in the second quarter of 2021 versus 2020—double-digit growth—and a strong backlog with a book-to-bill in excess of 2:1. “We are sold out into 2023,” says Amalfitano.

Honeywell’s new forecast is predicting deliveries of up to 7,400 new business jets valued at $238 billion over the coming decade, reflecting an annual growth rate of 3%.

“The pandemic has been a big shock to the industry but it's an accelerator to the business and general aviation industry, as we can see in the form a V-shaped recovery,” says Samir Sahgal, the senior sales director at Boeing Global Services “We're seeing continued interest from first-time buyers. Historically new entrants have represented 15- 20% of jet purchases, but now over 30% of buyers are first-time buyers in this industry. It’s absolutely fantastic to see the interest continuing, and I think the pie is growing.”

Eric Martel, Bombardier’s president and CEO, says the company’s recent move to focus on business aviation is paying off. Bombardier has been able to build “quite a bit of backlog,” he says. “We see a lot of momentum with the fleet operators.”

Boeing Business Jets also is seeing demand come back, says marketing director Alex Fecteau. Resale transactions are up 57% over 2020 and 47% over 2019 through the first eight months of this year.

Longitude jet
Cessna Citation Longitude on display at the NBAA flight line. Credit: Brett Schauf/ShowNews

Airbus Corporate Helicopters logged 66 orders, or bookings, for its single- and twin-engine models in 2019, and 62 orders in 2020 during the pandemic. This year as of June, it had already logged 43 orders and expects to exceed last year’s performance by year-end.

We’ll announce our official results next year for the end of [2021], but it looks like a stellar year,” says marketing chief Nitin Sareen. “Basically, what the pandemic has also done has shown private business aviation customers the importance of why a helicopter can fit into their lifestyle, be it for private use or corporate use.”

While attendees to the show were clearly thrilled to be meeting in person again, the pandemic still hung in the background. NBAA required all attendees to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccinations upon entry. Masks were optional, but a good number of participants chose to wear them. And some key exhibitors were missing.

“I wouldn’t say we’re out of the COVID crisis,” said Nicolas Chabbert, senior vice president of Daher’s Aircraft Division and the outgoing chairman of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. “But we’re seeing how we can live through this pandemic.”

—With Bill Carey, Molly McMillin, Guy Norris and Lee Ann Shay at NBAA in Las Vegas

Joe Anselmo

Joe Anselmo has been Editorial Director of the Aviation Week Network and Editor-in-Chief of Aviation Week & Space Technology since 2013. Based in Washington, D.C., he directs a team of more than two dozen aerospace journalists across the U.S., Europe and Asia-Pacific.