Has the business jet market bounced back?

Jonathan Alcorn | Bloomberg via Getty Images

While the global economy has begun to slowly recover from the financial crash in 2008, the business jet market is still struggling and is now stuck in its own "lost decade" bubble, according to research from Citigroup.

Before its collapse in 2008, Lehman Brothers had a fleet of private jets: a Dassault Falcon 50, two Gulfstream IVs and four Boeing 737s. As part of winding down the bank, most of the fleet had to go, with the four Boeings being sold for $53 million, according to The Wall Street Journal. A friend of Dick Fuld's said that for the first time in 20 years, the former Lehman boss had to step foot on a commercial aircraft.

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It still appears there is some reluctance among high-flyers to return to the business jet market.

The Citigroup report argued that "the exuberance of the 2000s created a significant overhang in new demand," and that while business jet companies were hopeful that China could fill in the gap left by the west, "demand will develop (there), but not quickly enough to produce a material pickup in the near-term."

The problems facing the business jet market are not spread uniformly across the industry. According to the report, "Deliveries of new small & medium business jets face ananemic recovery through the rest of the decade based on excess inventory produced during the 2000s."

At the other end, large cabin business jets have recovered from the crash and demand looks strong once more. Citi does still warn that there is a level of over-supply at this higher-end too.

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David Velupillai, the marketing director for Airbus Corporate Jets, agreed the market has been difficult, but tempers the idea of a "lost decade" for the business jet market. Velupillai and Airbus cater to the large cabin range, and aircraft like the ACJ318 offer the widest and tallest cabins of any business jets in the market.

"(A) Decade is too long," Velupillai told CNBC. "It's really been something like the last three years or so when things have been challenging."

The reason the large cabin range has remained resilient is simple, according to Velupillai. "At the smaller end of the market you're probably talking about millionaires, who are either renting or chartering aircraft," he said. "At the top-end, you're talking about billionaires, so you're talking about buying. A billionaire can still afford to buy a chartered aircraft."

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However, Steve Varsano, the founder of luxury private aircraft company The Jet Business, disputed the report's findings.

"Take the Gulfstream 550 as an example," Varsano said. "There's 400 jets that have been manufactured in the last 10 years. There are nine for sale. Nine. That's 2 percent.You call that an oversupply of air planes?"

Much of Varsano's business - around 85 percent - comes from selling used airplanes, which the Citi report said was a sign of a weak market low on orders.

For the struggling small and mid-cabin business jets, China is seen as the big opportunity by Citi over the long-run, with a strong economy combined with a business aviation market that is relatively new and has an ability to expand hugely. But it argued that it would take time to develop. For example, Brazilian manufacturer Embraer said it forecast demand from China for 394 small and medium jets from 2013 to 2023, an average of 39 per year.

"This doesn't add much to what we see as relatively tepid new aircraft demand over the next decade...we still consider it a relatively nascent opportunity," the Citi report added.

Varsano argued that emerging markets, like China, had helped the airplane manufacturers survive in the years after the financial crash, as well as adding that China was not the key region to look at in the business jet space.

"I think Africa is more interesting than China," he said. "I think there is growth there, but it's a very tiny base of the global market of corporate jets. 19,000 jets in the world and China only has 190."

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