Private business plane sales lag travel recovery

GENEVA Fri May 13, 2011 5:22am EDT

People attend the Shanghai International Business Aviation Show at the Hongqiao International Airport in Shanghai April 13, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

People attend the Shanghai International Business Aviation Show at the Hongqiao International Airport in Shanghai April 13, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria

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GENEVA (Reuters) - Elite business air travel on privately owned and chartered aircraft is recovering from the 2009 slump, but reports show sales to the sector are less healthy.

The reports on the so-called business aviation segment appeared in advance of the European Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition -- a sales show and company leaders' gathering in Geneva next week.

Figures issued by the European air safety body Eurocontrol showed that, after an increase in private business aircraft flights of 5.5 per cent in 2010, an upwards trend was continuing in 2011.

The annual Eurocontrol statistics, although only covering business flights into, out of and around the continent, are generally regarded as a strong indicator of what is happening in North America, the other major part of the market.

The Brussels-based organisation said it expected to see business aviation continue to outstrip the scheduled and passenger market in growth over the next two years as the market rebuilt after the 2008-09 global financial crisis.

But up to the year 2015, it said, there was unlikely to be any return to the high pre-crisis growth rates.

Business, or what is also called general, aviation covers a private industry that moves company executives and often workers and technicians as well as just wealthy people around the globe away from the hassle of the commercial air carriers.

WIDE RANGE OF PLANE TYPES

Its movements -- using planes ranging from luxury corporate jets through work-horse mid-range aircraft to helicopters and air taxis -- account for some 8 percent of those of the overall civil aviation sector.

EBACE, now in its 11th year, is one of the industry's two annual flagship events. The other is organised in the United States by the North American Business Aviation Association.

EBACE opens on May 17 for three days.

It attracts major manufacturers -- like Airbus Industrie EADS.PA, Boeing (BA.N) Business Jets division, Canada's Bombardier (BBDb.TO) and Brazil's Embraer (EMBR3.SA) -- as well as smaller plane builders and equipment suppliers.

But according to a report from the U.S.-based General Aviation Manufacturers' Association, shipments and billings for aircraft destined for the business aviation sector in the first quarter of this year have been dropping well below the figures for the same period last year.

"This has been a very difficult year to date as a result of the slow economic recovery in North America and Europe," said GAMA's President and Chief Executive Officer Pete Bunce. "Emerging market deliveries continue to sustain the industry."

Aircraft shipments across the world fell by 4.6 per cent in the first three months of 2011, from 390 to 372 units, compared to the first three months of 2010. Billings, at $3.7 bln, were down nearly 20 per cent, the association said. (Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Mike Nesbit)

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