Business jet makers ready to fly through tough year

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Major business jet makers said on Monday that they expected another tough year for the business aviation market as it weathers a slow pick up after the economic crisis.

"This year remains difficult. Quarter one is a disappointment," Dassault chief executive Charles Edelstenne told reporters a day before EBACE, the biggest annual business aviation fair, opens in the Swiss city of Geneva.

"It's very difficult to forecast anything. The market has not restarted yet. Nobody knows how long the crisis would last. We are waiting for a restart," he added.

World deliveries of business jets plunged 24.3 percent between 2008 and 2009, after unprecedented growth in the five years earlier, according to estimates from US consultancy Teal Group.

Edelstenne said that Dassault, which makes Falcon business jets targeting the luxury sector, is holding up well in the crisis. The French company holds a share of between 40 and 45 percent of the luxury end of the market.

However, Dassault's chief said they firm was "on a plateau" while the resale market is showing signs of recovery.

The second-hand market is regarded as a key indicator for the industry, with a recovery in this area often preceding an overall revival of corporate aviation.

Edelstenne reiterated the group's forecast of record Falcon deliveries in 2010, with some 80 jets to be delivered compared to 77 a year ago, despite the cancellation of four Falcons in the first quarter.

The group's net profit fell 15.5 percent in 2009 to 315 million euros as the global economic crisis dampened demand.

The chairman of US group Gulfstream, Joe Lombardo, said in a separate press briefing that the industry was making a slow recovery.

Like Edelstenne, Lombardo underlined that the market for high-end jets was performing well despite the crisis.

"The industry is recovering albeit slowly. Gulfstream has the right products to benefit from the renewed growth," he added.

Lombardo said that the development of a new business jet called the G650 was "on track."

The jet is expected to be able to transport up to eight passengers non-stop over long distances such as Dubai-New York or London-Buenos Aires.

Canadian aircraft group Bombardier maintained its forecast of a 15 percent decline in orders to 150 jets this year.

"It will again be a difficult year but we can see the beginnings of a recovery," company spokeswoman Danielle Boudreau told AFP.

"The number of order cancellations is going down compared to the fourth quarter," she added, without giving any figures.

Bombardier also pointed to a stronger performance at the luxury end of the market for the company's Global Express XRS.

"Small companies, which are more often clients of entry level aircraft, have been hit hardest by the crisis," Boudreau explained.

Secondhand prices had suffered but were moving higher this year, she added.

Bombardier lays claim to 38 percent of the business aviation market.

© 2010 AFP

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