By Mike Espindle
Amid universal recognition of economic woes, an equally pervasive upbeat and optimistic vibe pervaded the news from the first days of this year’s private jet NBAA convention in Orlando. While nearly all news announcements were couched by concern over slowing economics in North America and western Europe, nearly every airframe manufacturer also pointed to multi-billion dollar order backlogs that would see the private jet industry through an anticipated downturn. Luis Carlos Affonso, EVP of Executive Jets at Brazilian maker Embaer, told us that he expected his company’s “book-to-build” ratio, a number that expresses the number of sales booked vs. number of planes built and delivered, would go below 1:1 for the first time in many years.
Another highlight from the show were a series of significant financial backing announcements. The Tata Group, the broad-based Indian industrial conglomerate that recently acquired Jaguar/Land Rover and operates the luxury Taj Hotels, has acquired a one-third interest in Piaggio Aero, the makers of the Avanti P.180 twin turbo aircraft. Dubai-based Emivest has injected much needed capital into Sino Swearingen to hopefully see-through the much anticipated SJ30 light jet project. And troubled Grob Aerospace made a surprising, yet undetailed, announcement of 11th hour finanancial backing, as well.
New model highlights
Market leader Gulfstream announced a stunning new super mid-size project scheduled for delivery in 2011. The G250 will be a 3,400NM range, .85 Mach 8-10 passenger jet with unmatched cabin space owing to a complete lack of fuselage gas tanks. More importantly, perhaps, Gulfstream shared some of its vision for a updated interior styling approach, showing gorgeous streamlined cabinet components for the new jet. The pricetag? $24 million. According to the company a similar interior feel will be incorporated into the upcoming G650 superjet, as well.
Taking a style lead as well was Hawker Beechcraft, debuting an impressive interior upgrade to the King Air 350 that quantum leaps the traditional “workhorse of the sky,” into a decidedly luxury market arena. In addition, the aircraft will feature a uniquely flexible mission-configurage aft section, with switchable furniture components for adding more passengers or adding more comfort. The improvements are so significant, the company is issuing a new model number for the product, the King Air 350i. The 350i will sell for about $6.9 million and should be delivered Q3 2009.
Also, HBC announced a new Hawker family member. The 450XP takes the existing 400XP jet and adds in new engines, Pratt & Whitney 535Ds, an impressive range extension, a stunning interior and a next-generation Collins Venue entertainment system. The anticipated price will be $7.7 million and a Q2 2010 delivery date.