By Adam Hunt
The previous 21st century record for growth in the Canadian private civil aircraft fleet was set in 2005 when growth was recorded as 2.8 per cent, but that record fell in 2008 when growth hit an amazing 3.2 per cent.
The private fleet increased by 803 aircraft to a record high of 25,859 over the course of 2008. In the previous record year, 2005, the fleet had added 648 aircraft making 2008 a 24 per cent bigger year for private aircraft fleet growth.
It will come as no surprise that certified aircraft were the leaders in the private fleet surge this past year, as they have been for the past few years. A total of 299 certified aircraft joined the fleet, including 203 airplanes, 89 helicopters, three gliders and four balloons. All told, certified aircraft accounted for 37 per cent of the growth seen in 2008. The total number of private certified aircraft was 15,336 at the end of 2008.
The second quickest growing area of private aviation was BULAs, which added 189 new aircraft or 24 per cent of the growth seen. These included 188 single-engine ultralights and one twin. There were 4,945 BULAS at year end.
The amateur-builts were in the number three slot, adding 134 aircraft, including 132 fixed wing airplanes and three helicopters, while one gyroplane was removed from the register. Amateur-builts were 17 per cent of the aircraft added to the fleet in 2008. Amateur-builts now number 3,510 in Canada and include fixed wing airplanes, helicopters, gilders, gyroplanes, balloons, airships and even one ornithopter.
AULAs were in fourth place increasing their numbers by 51 airplanes over the year. By category definition AULAs are all fixed wing aircraft. Their growth accounted for six per cent of the fleet growth and brought the total number of AULAs on the register to 1,040, topping one thousand for the first time. Of interest, the category was introduced in 1991 and so it took 17 years to hit that 1,000 aircraft mark, for an average of 61 AULAs added per year.
The O-M category saw very little growth in 2008, adding only 35 aircraft and bringing their numbers to 456 in total. The category now has 444 airplanes and 12 gliders. This category is mostly suffering from a lack of interest ever since the FAA stated that these aircraft will never be allowed to be flown in U.S. airspace or sold in the U.S.
Commercial and State Fleets
The commercial aircraft fleet saw a year of strong growth in 2008 as well, increasing by 3.72 per cent or 244 aircraft and hitting a total of 6,801 aircraft. This included 161 airplanes, 82 helicopters and one balloon.
The state fleet is made up of those aircraft owned by various levels of government and it stayed completely even in 2008 at 273 aircraft, the same as in 2007.
The private fleet now makes up 79 per cent of the aircraft in Canada, the same as it did in 2007, with the commercial fleet at 21 per cent and the state fleet at 0.8 per cent.
It would be an understatement to say 2008 was an economically volatile year. It started with the Canadian dollar at 85 U.S. cents and ended with it at about 80 U.S. cents, but over the summer, while oil prices skyrocketed to U.S. $147 per barrel, the Canadian dollar hit $1.10 - up 25 per cent in a few months.
Asking prices for used Canadian aircraft failed to keep up and many buyers reported that Canadian aircraft for sale were significantly over-priced compared to U.S. asking prices for the same make and model. A summer spot check of Canadian and U.S. asking prices showed that the benchmark U.S. Cessna 150s were typically selling for half the Canadian asking prices. This made U.S. aircraft a bargain for Canadians and the summer of 2008 saw over a hundred aircraft per month imported.
Late in the year the U.S. mortgage crisis blew up, the stock market crashed, loans became hard to get, the Canadian dollar and oil prices fell quickly and aircraft imports into Canada quickly dropped off to less than half their summer levels.
There are still many bargains to be had in the used aircraft market, especially in the U.S., as owners try to sell aircraft in record numbers, causing prices to fall. For example, by year-end many Cessna 150s could be found south of the border with low time engines, recent paint and asking prices in the U.S. $14,000-$19,000 range.
Given the economic forecasts for a continued recession through 2009/10 this means used aircraft prices will likely trend even lower, making this a good time to buy an aircraft, especially while gasoline remains at record low real prices, at least for now.
Note: Data for this report was taken from the Transport Canada Civil Aircraft Register and reflects the difference between the number of aircraft registered in Canada on Dec. 31 2007 and Dec. 31 2008. These numbers reflect the net number of aircraft built and imported, minus the number destroyed, scrapped and exported. Just because an aircraft is registered in Canada does not mean it is being flown, therefore, the number of registered aircraft should not be confused with the amount of flying activity.
Where is the growth coming from?