Slow growth foreseen for piston, turboprop planes

10/04/2011 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:05 AM

Demand for piston-powered and turboprop aircraft is expected to total 24,000 aircraft worth about $28 billion over the next 10 years, according to a new forecast.

The forecast by Forecast International includes 18,400 piston aircraft worth $8 billion and nearly 6,000 turboprops worth about $20.5 billion.

While production is expected to increase slightly from 2011 to 2012, stronger growth won't begin until after next year, the report by the Newtown, Conn.-based company said.

Forecast International provides market intelligence, forecasting, proprietary research and consulting services for several industries, including aerospace. The forecast does not include business jets and light sport aircraft.

It might take years, if not the rest of the decade, for demand for piston aircraft to return to pre-recession levels, the forecast said. The tepid economic recovery has hurt growth in both segments.

Manufacturers are "seeing signs of improvement, but it's from a very low base," Douglas Royce, Forecast International aerospace analyst, said Monday.

Demand from areas around the globe with higher economic growth — including emerging economies in China, India and Brazil — won't grow quickly enough to replace lost orders from customers in North America and Europe.

Demand for turboprop planes, such as Cessna Aircraft's 208 Caravan and Hawker Beechcraft's King Air, is expected to bounce back quicker than demand for piston-powered aircraft, Royce said.

"The turboprops tend to have a higher proportion of commercial operators using them than the general aviation piston aircraft," Royce said. "They've done fairly well even through the downturn because the aircraft are used as income generators."

Turboprops are used for a variety of applications, such as carrying small freight, charter operations and special missions.

Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft are well positioned in that market, Royce said.

Royce expects turboprop production to grow from 387 planes last year to 509 this year. That includes 100 aircraft used in agriculture.

Turboprop production is expected to be flat for the next two years, before beginning to improve in 2014.

In the piston market, Royce expects production to increase from 900 in 2010 to 1,000 aircraft this year.

Although the figures are up, it's a long way from the 2,600 pistons delivered in 2007 when the economy and the market were strong, Royce said.

It will take years before that level of production returns, he said. Production won't reach 2,300 to 2,400 piston aircraft until 2018 or 2019.

"Piston sales have taken a huge dive," Royce said. "Part of it is because wealth has been destroyed by the stock market and the housing crash."

In addition, in the two primary markets for piston aircraft — North America and Europe — the pool of pilots isn't growing.

Manufacturers are waiting to see how long it takes demand for piston planes to emerge from China and India. When it does, Cessna, Piper, Cirrus and other planemakers will be well positioned.

"Everyone will benefit, but that's going to require the regulatory structure and infrastructure to be built," Royce said.

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