Pandemic weighs on aircraft production

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Cessna 172s and Piper PA–28 Archer IIIs were among the very few models in the world that picked up the pace in 2020, according to the GAMA quarterly tabulation released September 14. Large orders placed by leading national flight training providers that predate the coronavirus pandemic probably propped up those numbers in an otherwise dismal first half of 2020, as the global health crisis slowed or shuttered factories throughout the supply chain. Several GA companies joined an urgent effort to address shortages of medical and protective equipment in April, GAMA CEO Pete Bunce noted in a news release.

Compared to the same months in 2019, April, May, and June saw steep declines in piston airplane deliveries (down 13 percent), turboprop airplanes deliveries (down 34 percent), and business jet deliveries (down 27 percent). Rotorcraft deliveries showed even steeper declines. 

This surprised nobody, under the circumstances. It continued the bleak trend noted in the first-quarter results GAMA reported in May, when some longtime market leaders managed to hold their ground. Cirrus Aircraft and Diamond Aircraft nearly matched their first-quarter numbers from 2019. The year ended with a 10-year high in airplane deliveries and sales, but that momentum crumbled as the coronavirus spread. Honda Aircraft Co., which delivered seven HA–420 HondaJets in the first quarter, followed that up with just two in the second quarter. Cirrus saw deliveries slip from 85 aircraft in the first quarter to 74, including 13 SF50 Vision Jets.

Leading indicators are somewhat positive, under the circumstances. While commercial air travel continues to languish far below the pace set in recent years, GA has recovered more fully. Aviation analyst Brian Foley noted that recent data show summer business jet activity in North America was back to within 20 percent of the summer travel activity in 2019, based on data compiled by Argus International, though commercial air travel remained down 46 percent. Bunce struck an optimistic tone on that trend, one that media outlets have also recently highlighted:

“While continued mandated and voluntary restrictions on international business travel are producing stiff headwinds, flight activity for business aviation has appeared to return to around 85 percent of pre-pandemic levels in U.S. domestic airspace, while piston, turboprop and rotorcraft flight activity has actually increased. Many travelers have also opted to explore the utility of general and business aviation for the first time, which we hope will translate into future customers for the incredible and

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