The quarterly report from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association compared aircraft shipments and billings for January, February, and March against the same period in 2020, when the pandemic was just beginning to affect these metrics of the aviation industry’s health. It was also a time when many manufacturers and their factory staff retooled aircraft production lines to instead produce urgently needed personal protective equipment.
Piston airplane deliveries increased 7.3 percent, from 219 to 235 aircraft, in the first three months of 2021 compared with the same quarter in 2020. Turboprop deliveries increased 18.3 percent (from 71 to 84 aircraft) worldwide, though business jet deliveries slipped from 114 aircraft to 113. An 8.2-percent increase in turbine helicopter deliveries helped that volatile sector regain lost ground, with 92 turbine helicopters delivered compared to 85 in the first three months of 2020, GAMA noted. The turbine helicopter uptick overcame a slight dip in piston helicopter deliveries (from 37 to 36 aircraft) and drove a 4.9-percent overall increase in helicopter shipments.
“The first quarter of 2021 shows progress for the industry. It is encouraging to see manufacturers begin to bounce back from the impacts of the pandemic,” said GAMA President and CEO Pete Bunce, in a news release. “Although, we are not yet in the clear. The industry continues to face headwinds, especially with ongoing supply chain issues and pandemic related restrictions and constraints to global travel. It is important that we continue working with governments to assist in strengthening our supply chain, safely easing travel related restrictions and protecting our highly skilled workforce. Our outlook toward the future is exciting, particularly in light of our industry’s commitment to, and focus upon, environmental sustainability which continues to spur development of new aircraft, innovative technologies, and the production, distribution and uptake of Sustainable Aviation Fuel.”
Notable producers of new general aviation aircraft reported data that is consistent with the overall theme. Cirrus Aircraft, long an industry leader, delivered 67 piston airplanes in the first quarter of 2020, and 18 SF50 Vision Jets. Sales of that single-engine turbine model slipped to seven aircraft in the first quarter of 2021, while Cirrus delivered 70 piston aircraft, an increase driven by SR20 and SR22 sales. Deliveries of Cirrus’ top-of-the-line piston model, the SR22T turbocharged version, were identical, 39 aircraft in each period compared.
The story was a little different for Textron Aviation, owner of the Cessna and Beechcraft brands, which reported 33 piston airplane deliveries in the first quarter of 2021, down from 54 in the first three months of 2020. Textron’s overall total of 75 aircraft delivered, including the various Citation jet models, was down from 93 aircraft delivered in the opening months of 2020. Cessna Skyhawk sales slipped from 48 aircraft to 27, and the company sold no Beechcraft Bonanzas or Barons in the opening three months of 2021, down from two of each of these models during the same period a year before.
Piper Aircraft, on the other hand, reported near-identical aircraft delivery totals, with 24 of these (all models) in the first quarter of 2021, compared to 25 for the first three months of 2020. Notably, Piper delivered six of its M600 flagship turboprops in the opening months of 2021, doubling the 2020 total.