By S.L. Fuller | February 22, 2018
General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) Chairman Phil Straub, who is managing director of aviation and VP for Garmin International, read the 2017 shipments and billings numbers during the association’s annual press conference Wednesday:
Piston airplanes saw a 6.5% increase in shipments and an 8.6% increase in billings.
“The segment had one of its better years since the end of the recession,” Straub said to a silent audience.
Turboprop airplane shipments saw a decrease of 3.3% and a 12.6% decrease in billings. The audience silently listened along.
Business jets experienced a 1.3% increase in shipments and a 3.9% decrease in billings. Straub explained that this could be attributed to aircraft mix.
Piston rotorcraft shipments experienced an increase of 17.9% in 2017, with 264. Piston rotorcraft billings experienced a 12.6% increase in billings at $107 million.
Audible gasps of amazement, excitement or unbelief — perhaps a combination thereof — erupted from the previously silent crowd.
Those numbers are good. They’re really good.
The preliminary numbers for turbine rotorcraft shipments and billings also showed increases, although small in comparison. Shipments increased by 3.9% to 662, while billings increased 1% to $3.6 billion.
Rotorcraft shipment and billings numbers for 2017 were small in comparison to 2012 and 2013 numbers. Piston rotorcraft shipments were at nearly 350 in 2013, while the same year saw nearly $7 billion in turbine rotorcraft billings.
But double-digit increases are noteworthy.
“I wish every sector was up as much as we’ve seen on the rotorcraft side,” said Pete Bunce, GAMA president and CEO. “As we did the analysis on the data, were excited about what’s happening in the emerging markets that are out there,”
He explained too that the “refresh rate” on rotorcraft is stimulating the market.
“Tt’s a more complex mechanical type of operation than the normal fixed-wing aircraft,” he said. “So, I think now there’s some refresh going on in the industry that’s made us all go, ‘Keep it going! Keep it rolling!’ It’s pretty good.”
If 2018 follows the 2017 trend, the rotorcraft industry could see an increase in demand. That, paired with the worldwide pursuit of innovation, makes for an exciting time not only rotorcraft, but aviation as a whole.
“Not since the dawn of the jet age do I think we had opportunity like we have now,” Bunce said, “with being able to look at what electric and hybrid propulsion and simplified vehicle operations can do for aviation and where potentially this could go.”
GAMA continues to view urban air mobility as an opportunity that can be accomplished. While the industry has a long way to go, it’s doing all the right work, right now.
“I don’t have the best crystal ball, but I can tell you that the building blocks of achieving that are in what we’re doing now and today,” Straub said of urban air mobility. “When we talk about simplified vehicle operations, it’s really about, in my mind, and I say this as a pilot — the pilot is probably the weakest link in the loop. What we’re trying to do is give the pilot more information, relevant to when they’re operating.”
Things like envelope protection are leading to types of autonomous operations, he said. Simon Caldecott, president and CEO of Piper Aircraft, agreed with this sentiment, as the immediate past GAMA chairman sat on Bunce’s panel. As did fellow panelist David Van Den Langenbergh, Luxaviation Group CTO and GAMA airworthiness and maintenance committee chair. With his company based in Luxembourg, he noted Europeans are keen on the idea of futuristic aircraft, as well.
“It’s really something that’s close to the heart of European aviators because of the environmental issues which is really concerning Europe, noise abatement,” he said. “And I think if we as an industry are smart, there’s a lot of development and new technologies and new products that we can look into and that’s very exciting for the years ahead.”
After all, Caldecott added, the concept of autonomous cars is creeping closer and closer to application. And those vehicles use some technologies that are borrowed from aviation.
“When we talk to the auto industry they say, ‘You have a simpler problem to solve. You have three dimensions to work in versus two.’ Those experts are telling us, ‘boy, we’d love to be in aviation,’” Bunce added. “A lot of them have come from aviation are going to come back and we’ve got a lot of automotive companies that are diving into this space very rapidly — international automotive companies. It’s an exciting time.”