GA Seeks Out Global Market

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Sales of general aviation piston airplanes have been slumping this year in the U.S., but some manufacturers are finding that global demand is taking up the slack, and then some. Air Tractor, of Olney, Texas, is having one of its best years ever, according to company president Leland Snow. The company's utilitarian aircraft are used mainly for agriculture and firefighting. "A combination of economic factors are producing a favorable climate for aircraft sales [globally]," Snow said this week. "High commodity prices and the worldwide boom in agriculture, plus a weak U.S. dollar have made aircraft more affordable for overseas customers." The company expects to produce 94 airplanes this year and 120 in 2009, at an average price of $700,000. Liberty Aerospace, of Melbourne, Fla., also said this week it is seeing a hefty increase in orders from overseas customers for its fuel-efficient XL-2 two-seat airplane.

"Given the escalating cost of fuel, many flight schools are reviewing their choices for primary training aircraft," said R.W. Burnley, Liberty spokesman. "If we think avgas is expensive here in the U.S., those schools in faraway places are experiencing costs that are sometimes three times ours." Liberty is working to fulfill an order from China for 600 aircraft. In a volatile world, airplanes that can operate economically have an edge. "These are busy times at Air Tractor," says Snow. "With the world's demand for food only increasing, we don't see that things here will slow down anytime soon."