Dissecting GAMA's Annual Inspection

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How ARE We Doing?...

Is general aviation's glass half full? Is it half empty? Or is there just too much glass for the amount of liquid? Those questions -- kind of -- were the subject of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association's (GAMA) Annual Industry Review, a yearly look-see at sales numbers the industry racked up during the previous twelve months. An annual inspection, as it were. To no one's great surprise, and as AVweb reported earlier this month, the 2003 numbers show that many basic measurements of how well the general aviation industry is doing are trending downward, at least when compared with 2002. But, a closer, deeper examination of the industry's health reveals reasons for optimism.

Despite the bad news from GAMA -- total airframe deliveries have continued their downward trend since 2000 -- there is every reason for optimism. For example, the "hassle-factor" associated with travel by airlines shows no signs of abating. Each time another horror story surfaces about an 80-year-old grandmother or an eight-year-old child being given "the treatment" by the TSA as they attempt to board an airliner, some CEO somewhere decides he's had enough and either calls a local charter operator or a fractional-ownership operator to get prices. And, as manufacturing becomes even more decentralized in the U.S., customers and suppliers will still need an efficient way to get from Point A to Point B and back. And that ain't the airlines.

Finally, just about anyone with a subscription to The Wall Street Journal believes the current economic doldrums will soon start to turn around, probably in 2005. Confirming these beliefs, late last year Rolls-Royce pointed to a number of factors, chief among them an expected wave of business jet retirements in the next two decades. Rolls-Royce noted that "25 percent of the business jet fleet is 26 years of age or older and 40 percent of the fleet is 20 years of age or older, which shows that as many as 5,000 aircraft will need to be replaced over the forecast period." The Rolls-Royce forecast also noted that business jet deliveries for 2003 will total about 500, and that the same number could be expected in 2004. In fact, some 518 bizjets were delivered worldwide in 2003; it's much too early in 2004 to say whether current-year activity is on track to meet that projection.