Global business jet deliveries decline 20% in 2020 due to COVID-19

Slideshow ( 2 images )

(Reuters) - Global business jet deliveries declined 20.4% to 644 aircraft in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic weighed on production earlier in the year, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) said on Wednesday.

While business jet makers like General Dynamics Corp’s Gulfstream, Bombardier Inc and Textron saw a rebound in deliveries during the last three months of 2020, the industry does not expect a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels this year.

Business aviation has recovered faster from the pandemic than commercial airlines, helped by demand from first-time buyers, leisure travel, and wealthy individuals who are looking for private aircraft during COVID-19 because they seat fewer passengers.

“Behaviors are changing. The buyers are no longer asking the questions that they would have normally asked about the aircraft in terms of performance,” said Mike Amalfitano, chief executive of Embraer SA’s executive jets division, during an online briefing on the GAMA data.

“They’re focused on how clean it is. They’re focused on the air quality.”

Travel and manufacturing restrictions weighed on industry deliveries, while corporate demand has remained sluggish.

However, Tony Lefebvre, chief operating officer at Signature Flight Support, said he is seeing “green shoots” of demand for corporate travel as the COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out globally.

“We are starting to see the return of business flying,” he told the briefing.

Parent company Signature Aviation, a private jet services firm, backed a joint offer earlier this month from former Gatwick owner GIP, Blackstone Group Inc and Bill Gates’ investment vehicle Cascade valuing it at $4.73 billion, in a deal that analysts say shows the resilience of the business aviation market.

Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Steve Orlofsky