Airplane makers reported gains in all segments, with standout sales totals for some spotted in the 2021 industry data released February 23 by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association at GAMA's State of the Industry press event in Washington, D.C.
The report shows that, when compared to 2020 figures, all aircraft segments (GA aircraft and business jets) saw an increase in shipments. Preliminary aircraft deliveries were valued at $25.2 billion, an increase of 10.2 percent over the previous year.
“The strength and tenacity of the general aviation industry has provided a strong foundation for the industry to rebound from pandemic-related setbacks with a powerful showing in 2021. Total aircraft shipments are converging on figures that were seen before the outset of the pandemic. The industry has been able to weather the storm by strategically managing workforce and supply chain challenges, which unfortunately are still ongoing. Despite this adversity, there is robust interest and excitement in our industry as we continue to further our advancements in innovation, technology and environmental sustainability,” said Pete Bunce, GAMA president and CEO.
According to the GAMA 2021 shipments and billings report piston airplane deliveries increased 5.5 percent in 2021 over the previous year, with 1,393 units; turboprop airplane deliveries increased 19.0 percent, with 527 units; and business jet deliveries increased 10.2 percent, with 710 units. Aviation analyst Brian Foley predicted that impressive gains should continue, barring any unforeseen circumstances, and he expects worldwide jet shipments will “get out of their 700 unit per year rut and approach 900 units as soon as 2024, but not later than 2025.”
North America remains the leader in piston and turboprop aircraft as well as business jet shipments, with the Asia-Pacific market coming in second for the seventh year in a row in piston aircraft, Latin America in second for turboprop airplane shipments, and Europe in second for business jet shipments.
Business jet manufacturers seeing increases in 2021 include Embraer, Bombardier, and Honda Aircraft Co., with Gulfstream seeing a minor loss when compared to 2020.
Cirrus Aircraft saw large gains this year with a 26-percent increase in shipments and a 29-percent increase in billing. Textron Aviation, which includes the Beechcraft, Hawker, and Cessna brands, gained 28 percent in billing overall but saw a small loss in overall sales due to a slump in new piston aircraft sales.
Not all aircraft makers are capitalizing on this upswing in the market. New airplane unit sales have nearly doubled what many companies can deliver, resulting in long backlogs.
Foley noted that General Dynamics’ Gulfstream division reported fourth-quarter order activity was higher than anything seen since 2008, with a sales backlog that increased 40 percent from the previous year. With wing production moving in-house, requiring some tooling and other work, coupled with other capacity-stifling circumstances, General Dynamics expects to produce only four more jets in 2022 than it did in 2021, though production should ramp up in 2023 once Gulfstream makes the adjustments that will support long-term growth.
Foley described a similar situation at Bombardier, which is also having difficulty meeting demand. Despite reporting 1.5 new sales for every aircraft delivered and backlogs growing by $1.5 billion in 2020, Foley noted that Bombardier has stated it expects to see deliveries increase slightly in 2022 compared to 2021.
While much of the shipment and billing data notes upswings, there were a few notable declines reported by GAMA. Textron Aviation's overall increase was driven by turbine aircraft, with business jet deliveries up 27 percent and turboprops up 11 percent. Those gains offset a 19-percent decline in Textron's Cessna and Beechcraft piston aircraft offerings.
Icon Aircraft also logged fewer deliveries of its A5 light sport amphibian: 18 of those shipped in 2021, down from 22 in 2020. The company has struggled in recent years to match production with demand, reducing workforce and changing leadership. Most recently, Icon shareholders filed suit seeking to block what the plaintiffs allege is a ploy to illegally transfer Icon's proprietary technology to China.