Ever since the U.S. economy began its climb from the recession a decade ago, the business aviation industry has been waiting for a meaningful recovery.
But so far the industry — with roughly 10,000 jobs in Wichita between Bombardier and Textron Aviation — hasn't seen the kind of rebound it witnessed after previous recessions, including the hiring of hundreds more workers.
Instead, it's pretty much been a slow climb to stability since 2009, absent of any big uptick in new aviation jobs in Wichita.
However in recent months, some of the leading demand indicators for business aircraft have suggested the long-awaited rebound might finally be in sight.
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Corporate profits are strong. There are the fewer used business jets on the market. Pricing looks to be improving — or at least stabilizing — for used and new business jets.
And according to a recent survey of hundreds of business aircraft owners and operators, optimism in the industry is at its highest point in more than seven years.
But given so many false starts of a significant recovery in business aviation in the past decade, analysts say the promising indicators are still just that: a promise but no guarantee.
"Things have improved as far as the indicators go," said Brian Foley, an independent business aviation analyst. "Let's wait and see if that translates to better news for Wichita for (production) rates to rise."
During the most recent earnings call from Textron Aviation parent company Textron Inc., CEO Scott Donnelly said the market for Citation jets was good.
In the past four years, Textron Aviation has seen a steady increase in jet deliveries, from 159 in 2014 to 180 in 2017.
But it's not to the point where the company is ready to raise production rates, which would likely mean additional hiring.
"We try to take a fairly conservative view of this and make sure that we don't start to produce more than the market demand is," Donnelly said on the first quarter 2018 earnings call in April.
Richard Aboulafia, Teal Group vice president of analysis, said he's not ready to declare just yet that business aviation is about to turn the corner to renewed prosperity and more jobs.
"The numbers are certainly getting better and better and there's every reason for sales to go up but after so many false starts it's tough to be optimistic," he said.
Since 2009, there's been "an unpleasant track record of false starts coupled with a lack of firmness," Aboulafia said.
"The percent of the fleet available for sale, that's as good as we've ever seen," he said. "Pricing is starting to improve but it's nothing to scream, 'We're in the money.'
"I'd like to see metal cut and new orders" before proclaiming a return to growth for the industry, Aboulafia said.
"Certainly the conditions are there."
The amount of available business jets for sale as a percentage of the world fleet on May 31 was 9. 2 percent, according to the JetNet iQ State of the Market survey and forecast released June 19. It was 6.7 percent for turboprop airplanes. Both figures were at their lowest levels since 2009.
"This is now a seller's market," said JetNet iQ director and business aviation forecaster Rolland Vincent. "What we're waiting for is a big order intake. We're still waiting for that to start."
The report's survey of 500 business aircraft owners and operators from 60 countries also showed that 70 percent think the business aviation industry is past its lowest point in the business cycle, which JetNet iQ director and business aviation forecaster Rolland Vincent said is the "most optimistic we've ever seen" in the report's 7 1/2 years.
And "they're feeling bullish about the second half of the year," Vincent added.
More survey respondents said they are more likely to purchase a new business aircraft in the next 12 months — 10 percent compared with 7 percent a few quarters ago — but "it's still not where we'd like to see it," Vincent said.
"We'd like to see it up even higher," he said. "I think in the second half (of 2018), I'd imagine it would be going up."
Vincent acknowledges that market sentiment is one thing. Increasing demand supported by firm jet orders is another.
"We're still not seeing a bounce back in, 'Hey I want to go out and buy a new airplane,'" he said.
"I think until we see some real delivery numbers start to pick up, which I haven't seen yet, I don't think we can say just yet we're turning the corner," he said.
"The conclusion is, let's wait and see. There's a lot of moving parts, both positive and negative."