Piston models making a comeback

May 11, 2011

Piston engine sales in the first quarter of 2011 did exactly what aerospace analyst Brian Foley said they would do—they went up by 22 deliveries compared to the first quarter of 2010.

Foley, reached at his office in Sparta, N.J., said piston sales will continue to improve throughout the year and will be “up smartly” by year-end. Piston engine sales were the first to enter the recession in 2007 and are now the first to emerge, Foley said, commenting on new shipment numbers released by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

Sales to individuals, which many piston-engine sales represent, are the “canary in the coal mine,” Foley said. Individuals are the first to react to loss of wealth, and the first to act quickly, without waiting for the approval by a corporate board, when their personal wealth improves, he said. Foley cautioned not to be too excited about the 13.3-percent increase in piston engine shipments. “A double-digit portion of a really small number is still a small number,” he said.

Piston engine sales are expected to precede the return of the jet market by a year. Overall, piston-engine shipments worldwide climbed from 166 in the first quarter of 2010 to 188 for the same period in 2011. Turboprops declined from 60 in 2010 to 56 this year, while business jets declined from 164 to 128.

In the United States, piston-engine shipments climbed during the first quarter from 131 deliveries in 2010 to 149 in 2011. Turboprops increased by only one delivery, from 38 to 39, as did business jets, climbing from 74 to 75. Airplane shipments in North America climbed from 283 to 292, while shipments everywhere else in the world declined.

Looking at a few of the United States companies, first-quarter shipments increased from eight to 13 at American Champion, from 80 to 106 at Cessna Aircraft, from 51 to 61 at Cirrus Design, from 22 to 37 at Hawker Beechcraft, and from 18 to 29 for military deliveries at Hawker Beechcraft. Cessna had no deliveries of the 350 Corvalis last year or this year, and no deliveries of the 400 Corvalis TT compared to one in the first quarter of 2010.

Piper shipments declined from 30 to 26 aircraft, although deliveries were up for the Piper Seneca V, the Malibu Mirage, and the Meridian. Shipments at Bombardier declined from 47 to 42, and from 17 to nine at Dassault Falcon Jet. Embraer deliveries declined from 20 to eight, although Phenom 300 deliveries were up from one to four. Maule Air had one delivery in the first quarter of 2010 and one in the most recent quarter, while Mooney had two deliveries in 2010, but none this past quarter.

Al Marsh

Alton K. Marsh | "AOPA Pilot" Senior Editor, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.