The business jet market has a resilience all its own. While defense spending has sharply declined, the commercial sector is over-flowing with multi-thousand order backlogs. But if business jet orders can tail off dramatically and then bounce back so quickly, what accounts for this collective long-term immunity to volatile market demands?
One answer is competition. There are now so many manufacturers of business jets in the world there are niche markets within the sector that enable products to be offered for almost any need, from a private Airbus Corporate Jet (ACJ) A380 down to a 4-6 seat entry-level jet.
While the leading brands can supply a family of platform aircraft, the market is dynamic enough to also have space for new start-ups that do not require the same level of manufacturing infrastructure and corporate critical mass to bring new lightweight airplanes to market.
The main challenge for all-new designs is to keep the development timescale through to test and certification as short as possible, taking advantage of the latest design and manufacturing tools that enable rapid prototyping and the full exploitation of composite structural materials. This requires very tight management with a highly motivated team, with a good knowledge of what this sector’s customers are looking for (and what isn’t already available). Get this combination of factors right and priced at a realistic level to break even, and with appropriate investment, a small project can breakthrough into big-time production numbers.
Worldwide business jet deliveries rose by almost 20% during the first three months of this year, with 154 aircraft handed over. The North American market remains the prime target with by far the largest number of private and corporate jets registered. This market recovered rather faster than in Europe, where the financial cold wind caused a drastic slowdown in the rate of business expansion and the replacement of older jets stopped almost completely.
The unresolved fiscal problems in the Eurozone means that it is unlikely that European operators will be able to fully exploit what is now available in the executive jet market, at least for the next few years. New sales to the former Eastern European countries had been growing at a faster rate, as were sales to Russia and China, but the deterioration in Western/Russian relations is unlikely to promote further sales in the short term.
In Europe, Dassault Aviation remains the leading producer of business jets, with its six-strong Falcon family setting the standard in terms not only of sales (2250 to date) but advanced technology. The latest in a continuous product line dating back to 1963 is the three-engine Falcon 8X, which was announced in May 2014 and which features a larger fuselage and high performance wings with an integrated Honeywell EASy flight deck with head-down displays, head-up displays, and a synthetic vision system (SVS), SmartView, that provides a high level of all-weather day and night situational awareness.
The 7X was the first of a new Dassault generation of sophisticated fly-by-wire executive jets incorporating the latest technology for discriminating “top end” customers, and has now been followed by the 5X and 8X. The SVS incorporates virtual representation of outside world features such as high ground, tall obstacles, and runways, fusing GPS navigational information and radar pictures overlaid with 3-D mapping from an onboard global database and electro-optical/night vision onboard sensors.
The new 8X aircraft is a 6450 nmi ultralong-range addition to the family and is making rapid progress. In late July the wings, fuselage, and engines of the first aircraft were joined ready for the initial power-on and ground tests. It has adopted many of the advanced features of the Falcon 7X and 5X, including a fully digital fly-by-wire flight control system. It has the longest cabin of any Falcon, offering improved comfort and new competition at the upper end of the market. The 8X wing is 600 lb lighter than the airfoil on the 7X and its design gives Falcons advantages in aerodynamic efficiency, robustness, and maintainability.
Powered by three Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307D engines, with 5% more thrust than similar engines fitted to the 7X, the 8X is due to make its first flight in early 2015, with first deliveries due at the end of 2016.
Meanwhile, the twin-engine Falcon 5X started ground tests this summer and the first flight is expected in the first half of next year, entering service in 2017. This new aircraft, the largest Falcon to date, features in addition to a fully digital flight control system, a new design of wing “flaperon” that allows steep approaches at slow speeds. This enables the long-range aircraft to fly an intercontinental stage and then land at a relatively short airstrip, opening up many more direct point-to-point flights using secondary airfields.
Dassault Falcon Jet is a U.S. subsidiary of the French company and supports the Falcon family throughout the Americas and the Pacific Rim in Asia, including China. It also undertakes final fitting out of “green” airframes assembled in France and destined for customers in these regions.
Enter the Fastest Commercial Jet
Earlier this year, Cessna, part of Textron Aviation, brought its recently certified mid-size Citation X+ to the Farnborough Airshow, making it the type’s first trans-Atlantic crossing in a normal business flight profile, with an average ground speed of 502 knot.
This new aircraft is extremely fast and exceeded Mach 1 during the certification tests, making it the fastest commercial jet currently available. It also has an exceptionally high maximum altitude capability of 51,000 ft, above the standard commercial air lanes, permitting flights over many types of adverse en route weather.
Since the demise of Concorde supersonic scheduled flights a decade ago, trans-Atlantic flight times have been flatlined, and so an improvement in overall timings will be welcomed by many high-value business customers. On its U.S. to Farnborough journey, the Citation X+ flew at between Mach 0.86 and Mach 0.88 cruising above 45,000 ft. Maximum nonstop range is 3408 mi and with a maximum speed of Mach 0.93, carrying 12 passengers.
The most noticeable external difference with this latest model is the addition of winglets, which enhance performance by allowing cruise at higher altitudes consuming less fuel and enhancing takeoff and landing at either higher altitude airports or in high temperatures. It is powered by two FADEC Rolls-Royce AE3007C2 turbofans.
The cabin has a dual-zone temperature control system to keep pilots and passengers comfortable. The extended cabin is built up around an intelligent cabin management and entertainment technology solution integrated with the avionics and electrical systems. The Cessna Clarity system provides passengers with individual touch screens that control cabin lighting, window shades, temperature, and entertainment and communications options.
Garmin supplies its Synthetic Vision Technology on the primary flight displays giving virtual views of runways, terrain, traffic, and obstacles. The flight deck features a new Garmin G5000 avionics package with four intuitive full color touch-screen LCD panels and three 14-in high-resolution displays, as well as fully integrated auto-throttles to reduce pilot workload, including fuel management. The auto-throttle is integrated with the flight-management system and automatic flight-control system for computer control of engine thrust. This system can be engaged prior to takeoff roll to control fuel flow throughout the duration of the flight, or it can be disengaged for manual throttle operation.
Cessna has also been giving its other established models a “refresh” to increase their sales prospects. This includes the Citation Sovereign and the FAA-certified Citation CJ3+, which features a new seven-seat cabin and incorporation of the Garmin G3000 flight deck. The Cessna Latitude is a new model in the superlight category and is presently well into its flight test program aimed at certification and first deliveries in 2015.
Powered by two P&WC PW306D engines, the nine-seat Latitude features a wider and taller cabin than the Sovereign, but shares a common wing and rear fuselage. It also features the Garmin G5000 integrated flight deck and the Clarity cabin management system. Range is 2500 nmi and it can cruise at up to 45,000 ft at a speed of 440 knot.
This jet is to be joined in the Cessna product line up by a bigger family member, the super mid-size Longitude, sharing the same main features, and cabin cross section, but will be 9 ft longer with two more powerful Snecma Silvercrest engines giving it a 4000-nmi range and 490 knot cruise speed. This model will become the company’s top-of-the-range offering.
Gulfstream has dominated the super mid-size and very-long-range segments for almost as long as they have existed. Over the years the format has evolved to incorporate regular upgrades in terms of avionics and communications, with new models also offering longer range, higher altitude and more cabin features.
New wings and winglets have transformed capability and the current models— the G280, G450, and G650—are maintaining their presence in these niche segments. However, they are certainly not alone and in more recent times serious competition for ultra-long range requirements has come from many different directions.
Bombardier has been suffering from high-profile delays with its CSeries, but in its portfolio of business jets it is making good sales progress with its growing family of Global Express models, as well as finding new applications for specialist versions of its popular Challenger 604 and completion of the certification for the latest super mid-size Challenger 350, which replaces the successful and long running Challenger 300.
The 350 has two Honeywell HTF7350 engines giving the aircraft a range of 3200 nmi carrying up to ten passengers at a speed of up to Mach 0.82. The cockpit is built around the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics system. The company’s superlight Learjet 75 and light Learjet 70 models have now entered the market and are being followed by the new mid-size Learjet 85. This has a largely composite structure and flight tests are now underway.
Powered by two P&WC PW307B engines, the eight-seat model comes right into the middle of the most hotly contested segment of the market offering a 2600-nmi range with a top speed of 450 knot. As with its competitors, it is very well equipped in the cockpit area, being fitted with the company’s Vision flight deck incorporating a Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics system.
This flight deck design is also a feature on the emerging Global 7000 and 8000. These are new models in development that build on the market success of the original Global 5000 and later Global 6000 that offers extended range. They will become the largest members of the Bombardier executive jet family and expand its range flexibility out to just under 8000 nmi with a high Mach 8.5 cruise speed.
Embraer took a great leap a few years ago by launching its Phenom family of superlight executive jets. The result has been a runaway success, with this compact twin-engine jet soon achieving a significant slice of the market, and acting as an “entry level” for many operators requiring a modern technical solution in a minimum package that can still provide speed and comfort over a worthwhile range.
About to enter service is the Embraer Legacy 500, which has been in flight test since 2012. Its product line partner, the Legacy 450, which differs only in cabin length, is following twelve months behind, but is also now in the air. This is a new design and incorporates a digital flight control system, Rockwell Collins Proline Fusion integrated avionics system, and Honeywell HTF7500E engines.
The 500 is in the midsize category and the 450 the mid-light category, but both share a high level of commonality and a top speed of up to Mach 0.83. The company regards these aircraft as potential market-leading offerings as they introduce fly-by-wire controls into this market segment for the first time.
The Embraer Executive Jet Division continues to sell limited numbers of its corporate and VIP versions of its regional jets, including the Lineage brand, and at the top end is expected to add an executive model based on the 2013-announced EMB-170 E2 family. This would compete with the ACJ and BBJ (Boeing Business Jet) directly, though trading internal capacity for operating economics with reduced fuel consumption.
The BBJ family, based on the 737-700 and -800, has carved a good slice out of the high-end corporate, VIP, and government segments but the outstanding demand for standard commercial Boeing 737s, which will be replaced by the 737Max later this decade, means that there is extreme pressure on deliveries for new airframes for fitting out as BBJs.
Boeing is also delivering special VVIP examples of the giant 747-8 and 787 models, which, along with similar executive conversions of the complete Airbus family of narrow and wide body airliners right up to the A380, demonstrates that there really are no upper limits to this high-prestige market.