Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Jens Hennig's name.
General aviation aircraft deliveries in 2013 present a mixed picture of the industry.
Deliveries of piston airplanes, turboprops and large business jets rose last year, while deliveries of small and midsize jets fell for a third straight year.
That trend played out in Wichita, where Cessna Aircraft and Bombardier Learjet recorded lower deliveries last year, while shipments at Beechcraft, which builds Bonanzas, Barons and King Airs, but no business jets, rose.
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The figures were released Wednesday by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, which compiles the data.
Manufacturers worldwide delivered 2,256 airplanes last year, up 4 percent from 2,164 in 2012. Billings rose from $18.9 billion in 2012 to $23.4 billion last year, a 24 percent increase.
The positive numbers overall fuel cautious optimism for 2014, said Pete Bunce, GAMA’s president and CEO.
The introduction of new products will be key to future growth, he said. New products help stimulate the market.
“Virtually everybody’s got a development program – some announced, some not announced,” Bunce said.
That will help the light and midsize end of the business jet market, where demand remains soft.
“There’s going to be a lot of offerings coming on the market in the not-too-distant future,” Bunce said.
An improvement in the economies of the U.S. and Europe would also help, Bunce said.
Traditionally, demand in business jets lags a recovery in the economy by a number of months.
“One of the things that’s always signaled an improvement across the board is three consecutive quarters of plus-3 percent growth in the U.S. GDP,” Bunce said. “We have not had that yet.”
Manufacturers worldwide delivered 933 piston airplanes in 2013, up nearly 3 percent from 908 planes in the previous year. Billings were up 26 percent.
“It’s good news,” Bunce said of the increases.
Piston deliveries, however, are still far short of the shipments at the peak of the past decade when manufacturers shipped about 2,700 piston planes, he said.
“We think there’s still a lot of opportunity for growth” in that segment, Bunce said.
In the piston market, demand is fueled by a need to train pilots.
Although there’s been a continuous decline in the number of U.S. pilots, demand for planes is up from flight schools that train pilots for the airline market, said Jens Hennig, vice president for operations at GAMA.
It was a good year for turboprops as well, where deliveries were up 10 percent from 584 delivered in 2012 to 645 shipped last year. Billings were up 34 percent.
That demand led to a good year at Beechcraft, where demand for King Airs has been robust.
“The utility of these machines (turboprops) in the growing energy sector across the planet allows these machines to be sought after,” Bunce said.
Business jet deliveries, meanwhile, totaled 678 last year, up less than 1 percent from 672 shipped in 2012. Billings were up 23 percent.
Growth was in the high end of the market, where deliveries for large business jets rose from 204 large jets shipped in 2012 to 249 in 2013.
Deliveries of light and midsize jets fell, however. Planemakers delivered 77 light jets in 2013, down from 89 in 2012. And they delivered 352 midsize jets, down from 379 in 2012.
“The one part of the market that we’re still concerned about is the business jet category,” Bunce said.
Several product introductions in the light-to-midsize sector are planned over the next couple of years, he said.
“We’ve continued our innovation, and we’ve continued our growth even though times have been very difficult,” Bunce said. “I think we will see the fruits of that.”
What Bunce called a proliferation of new regulations has increased costs and slowed innovation and getting products to market, he said.
“As we look at the fleet and the age of the fleet, we have some concerns,” Bunce said. “When you have a fleet of pistons that is 48 years old, there is something wrong there.”
The passage of the Small Aircraft Revitalization Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and signed by President Obama in November, will help the industry, GAMA officials said.
The new certification regulations are expected to make it easier and cheaper to incorporate new technology and reduce certification costs of small general aviation airplanes.
The law requires the FAA to implement the recommendations that were made by its Part 23 Reorganization Aviation Rulemaking Committee by the end of 2015.
That kind of change has generated excitement for similar change in other aviation segments, such as rotocraft and larger business jets.
“The energy is building,” Bunce said.