Wichita Plane Makers Deliver Fewer Aircraft In 2008

Aircraft manufacturers in Kansas delivered fewer general aviation planes in 2008, the first annual drop in the past five years, an industry report shows.

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- The state's aircraft manufacturers delivered fewer general aviation planes in 2008, the first annual drop in the past five years, an industry report shows.

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association released its 2008 delivery data Tuesday at its Washington, D.C., conference.

Industry experts don't expect to see an increase anytime soon given the economic downturn.

"This looks to me like a three-year process at least," Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia told The Wichita Eagle.

Three Wichita aircraft companies -- Cessna Aircraft, Hawker Beechcraft and Bombardier Learjet -- delivered 1,809 aircraft last year, compared with 1,784 deliveries in 2007. The three companies accounted for 45 percent of all general aviation deliveries worldwide.

The general aviation industry delivered a total of 3,969 planes in 2008, a 7 percent decline from the 4,272 planes delivered in 2007. The drop was driven by a 21 percent decline in piston-engine aircraft shipments.

At the same time, shipments of turboprop planes rose 17 percent, and business jet deliveries were 16 percent higher.

Billings rose to $24.8 billion, up from $21.9 billion the previous year. The increases were attributed to backlogged orders taken during the strong economic years of 2006 and 2007, the aviation group said.

The association report comes out even as plane makers already have braced for further declines in demand by reducing production targets and cutting jobs.

"Every time you look at it, the numbers look a little worse," Cowen and Co. analyst Cai von Rumohr said.

General aviation is getting hit first and worst among the aviation sectors, Aboulafia said.

"It's where you had the greatest exposure to individual purchase power," Aboulafia said.

The industry is concerned with the economic stimulus package President Barack Obama signed Tuesday, said Hawker Beechcraft's vice president of marketing, Charles Mayer.

"There's not really anything that compels banks to loosen credit so that people have more access to it," Mayer said.

Cessna Aircraft delivered 1,300 aircraft in 2008, up from 1,274 in 2007. The increase was due to the acquisition of a plant in Bend, Ore. Without it, shipments would have declined.

Hawker Beechcraft delivered 435 aircraft, up from 430 the year before. Those deliveries would have been 30 to 40 percent higher had it not been for a four-week strike by its Machinists union, Mayer said.

Bombardier Learjet shipped 74 Learjet business jets last year, down from 80 the year before.

Companywide, Canada-based Bombardier had a record year for aircraft deliveries, spokesman Leo Knaapen said.

Bombardier has a good backlog, he said.

"At the same time, like other plane makers, sales are more and more challenging," Knaapen said. "It's an interesting economy right now. That's for sure."

Cessna spokesman Doug Oliver said the market will eventually rebound.

"The global downturn is real, and we must deal with it in the short term," he said.

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