Wichita's general aviation planemakers turned in a second straight year of lower aircraft deliveries, although signs of a recovery may be emerging.
Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, a Washington trade group, said he views 2011 with optimism and caution.
"We know the pace of the economic recovery will pick up. We know orders and backlog will increase," Bunce said. "We know that the world is waking up to the utility of business aviation."
Manufacturers have been through two difficult years, said GAMA chairman John Rosanvallon, president and CEO of Dassault Falcon.
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"Fortunately we are starting to see some positive signs," he said.
Rosanvallon and Bunce spoke Tuesday at GAMA's industry outlook conference in Washington, D.C., where GAMA released 2010 delivery figures.
Leading economic indicators point to a turnaround, Rosanvallon said.
"Markets other than North America and Europe are leading the global recovery," he said. Flying hours and corporate profits worldwide and in the U.S. are up, he said.
"A lot of the Fortune 500s are still being a little slow going back to the table and buying airplanes, even though they need to renew their fleets," Bunce said.
Congress' passage of a bill allowing buyers to write off 100 percent of aircraft investment for 2011 and 2012 should boost sales, Rosanvallon said.
But concerns remain about the sluggish market for used aircraft, the decline in aircraft pricing and the lack of aircraft financing — especially for the middle and light end of the business jet market, and for turboprops and piston aircraft, Rosanvallon said.
Wichita deliveries were down more than the industry as a whole.
Last year, Cessna Aircraft, Hawker Beechcraft and Bombardier Learjet delivered 776 general aviation airplanes, down 27 percent from the year before, according to GAMA figures.
Shipments by manufacturers worldwide fell 11 percent in 2010 to 2,015 planes, while billings rose 1 percent to $19.7 billion.
"The large, long-range airplanes seem to be less affected by the economics of the global economy than mid-size and smaller airplanes," Hawker Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture said Tuesday.
Wichita builds aircraft on the middle to small end of the market.
The biggest concern for the industry is the piston part of the market, Rosanvallon said.
The decline in the piston market began in 2007. Last year, deliveries of piston aircraft were the lowest since 1994, he said.
The number of active pilots in the U.S. is also at its lowest point since 1965. And the number of new students is shrinking, Bunce said.
In Wichita, Bombardier Learjet delivered 28 Learjet business jets last year, a 39 percent decrease from 2009.
Hawker Beechcraft's general aviation deliveries totaled 214 last year, a 22 percent decline from 2009.
And Cessna Aircraft delivered 534 aircraft, down 28 percent from the year before.
Hawker Beechcraft's Boisture said Tuesday that, given the economic environment, he was pleased with the company's 2010 results.
Hawker closely matched production rate and planning with what happened in the market last year, and it finished with a minimum amount of inventory of new and used aircraft, he said.
Activity has picked up, but mostly at lower pricing levels, he said.
"That's something we have to work our way out of as an industry," Boisture said of the pricing.
He expects this year to be modestly better than 2010.
"We're off to a better start," he said. "I'm optimistic that we'll do better this year. I think that's primarily because our team is better, and we're very aggressively improving all aspects of our business."
Mark Paolucci, Cessna senior vice president of sales and marketing, said he expects 2011 to be similar to last year, though the mix of models delivered may change.
"We might see some of our bigger airplanes being sold as opposed to the (entry-level) Mustang," Paolucci said. "I expect 2011 will look like 2010. But I believe it will be spread out a little more evenly."
Last year started off "pretty healthy," then fell off mid-year, Paolucci said. It came back strong in the fourth quarter, in part because of a boost from the passage of the depreciation bill, he said.
Wichita's biggest competitor, Brazil-based Embraer, was the planemaker to grow the most in the business jet market last year. Embraer's market share grew to 19 percent last year, it said.
In 2010, it delivered 145 business jets, including 100 Phenom 100 entry-level jets and 26 Phenom 300 light jets.
"Embraer is competition we have to be cautious of," Paolucci said. "We have to understand as much as we can what they're doing. Their pricing is very competitive; their products are reasonably good, so we have to be careful. It will cause all of us to get better."