There is definitely a degree of overlap in the regional and business jet sectors, both in terms of airframes and the engines that power them. At the high end of the market are aircraft such as the Boeing 737 BBJ and Airbus A319 Corporate Jet, which typically carry up to a dozen VIP passengers in spacious luxury, but which in airline service carry around 130 passengers.
Just below this in size come 70-100 seat regional jets from Bombardier and Embraer that are also available in VIP long-range executive jet formats. These are increasingly popular with heads of state and government departments as well as large corporate companies.
Top-end purpose-built executive jets, such as the Dassault Falcon 5X, Bombardier Global 8000, Gulfstream G600, and Cessna Citation X+, offer non-stop intercontinental connectivity and have developed a premium market of their own, an enviable niche where operators seem largely immune to financial constraints.
Smaller 30-50 seat jets provide regional shuttle services between major city hubs, as well as essential connections on lightly used routes, and are also available in well-appointed business jet versions.
Competition is intense right across the sector, with new models emerging at a steady pace, but because customer demand is relatively stable once again (after a downturn in 2008) and requirements predictable, technology advances are following an evolutionary pattern, rather than offering any radical changes in direction.
What is driving product and performance improvements, and thus sales, in these markets centers essentially in three areas—digital avionics, advanced structures and materials, and propulsion. So while the short-haul regional jet aircraft and business jets may look very similar in configuration and general appearance to those of three decades ago, beneath the surface they incorporate the benefits of computer-aided design and manufacturing, greatly enhanced aerodynamics with lower drag, new levels of connectivity and crew situational awareness, new composite structures, and, now fast becoming the primary area of interest, highly efficient and environmentally friendly new-generation jet engines.
Although global oil prices have crashed dramatically in recent times, improved fuel economy still has a direct and immediate beneficial impact on the bottom line for operators. There may be few all-new aircraft entering the regional market, such as the Mitsubishi MRJ family, but there is no shortage of new business jets. Many operators opt to order well-established and supported aircraft designs, such as the A319/320 and Embraer EMB-170/190 families, that have been re-cast in new, attractively upgraded, re-engined versions, powered by the latest high-tech turbofans.
At the top end of this market the new engines, such as the Pratt & Whitney Pure Power GTF (geared turbofan) and Snecma/GE CFM Leap, have been optimized, initially, as replacements for existing engines such as the CFM-56 and IAE V2500. The P&W GTF family has proven to be very scalable, expanding its range of thrust options from a maximum of 35,000 lb for airline use, down to 16,000 lb for ultra-long-range executive jets.
The design philosophy for this engine is to introduce a speed-reduction gearbox between the low-pressure (LP) turbine and the fan, combined with a faster-running LP compressor. This optimization of the rotational rates of the moving parts is set to greatly reduce fuel burn and noise levels in aircraft that adopt it. Reductions in the noise footprint have reached 75%, which equates to 20 dB below today’s strictest standards, according to P&W.
P&W also claims that fuel savings compared to today’s generation of similar thrust turbofans offer improvements of at least 15%. Reductions of 20% are already in prospect, and could eventually go as high as 30% with further development, which might include higher bypass ratios, new materials, and new combustor technologies. By the end of 2014, the GTF had completed over 26,500 cycles of testing, and the type has been initially certified for use on the Airbus A320neo and the all-new Bombardier C Series, with the MRJ and Embraer E2 series regional jets following.
The MRJ program has been underway for many years with the first flight now two years late. As a result, its early potential for market leadership, introducing the GTF engine, has been eroded by the emergence of the second-generation E2 series of regional jets, seating between 75 and 130 passengers, which will also be fitted with the Pure Power engine. With a four figure sales tally for the existing E-series jetliners and a well-established market position, it is little surprise that new E2 models have quickly overtaken the MRJ order book, and the Brazilian program is likely to soon follow the MRJ’s planned entry into service.
P&W is already looking ahead at a set of aerodynamic enhancements for the GTF that will increase efficiency and power to meet customer expectations well into the next decade.
Also from P&W, and destined to be manufactured by P&WC in Canada, is the new PW800 that is based on the core of the Pure Power GTF, but without a fan gear-drive system. It is intended to cover a wide thrust range of between 10,000 lb and 20,000 lb and received a boost last year when it was selected to power the new Gulfstream G500 and G600 jets.
Passport to Fly
Taking a big commercial risk almost a decade ago when it decided to look at a completely new turbofan engine sized around super-mid-size business jets, France’s Snecma pressed ahead with the Silvercrest turbofan, which is now in production for use aboard two of the newest upmarket bizjets, the Dassault Falcon 5X, and the Cessna Citation Longitude. Both are in development and are due to enter service in 2017.
Launching the Silvercrest just as the bizjet market crashed following the economic downturn in 2008 was regarded by many as a gamble, especially without a suitable launch aircraft signed up at the time, but the timing has proven to be ideal for these two new aircraft as it now gives them a performance margin over rivals. As an all-new engine it benefits from recent technology design progress in advanced fan design and weight reduction, and it is well-placed with a thrust range of between 9500 lb and 11,400 lb to evolve into a bigger family.
Snecma, part of the Safran Group, is an equal partner in CFM with GE and co-produces the CFM-56 turbofan, the biggest selling commercial jet engine in history. Sharing manufacture and assembly of CFM-56 engines at facilities in the U.S. and France, CFM has been continuously ramping up CFM-56 production in the face of its share of a growing and massive 6300 backlog of orders for 737s and A320s. Last year 1500 CFM-56 engines were built, and this will be increased to 1800 per year by 2019, by which time the company’s new Leap engine will be emerging in large numbers to power all the 737 Max and some A320neo models.
This has provided enormous experience building and supporting turbofan engines, but for the billionaire dollar bizjet market Snecma finds itself watching its CFM-56 partner develop its own product in the form of GE’s new Passport engine. This has a higher thrust than the Silvercrest and is currently being developed in the 18,000-20,000 lb thrust range, for use aboard the new ultra-long range, large cabin, Bombardier Global Express variants, the Global 7000 and Global 8000.
A Passport development engine flew for the first time aboard GE’s Boeing 747 flying test-bed aircraft in January and validated items such as the aircraft systems and instrument functionality, before undertaking further tests and evaluations that will lead up to certification later this year. After this it can become a key element in the certification program for the Global 7000, which is due for delivery in 2016, followed a year later by the Global 8000. A new Passport assembly facility is being prepared at its Strother manufacturing and support plant in Kansas.
Bizjets Taking Off
Independent market studies suggest that the total business jet market over the next decade alone may top 10,000 aircraft, with a value of over $250 billion. Nearly 70% of the total bizjet sector is accounted for in value terms by the top-end products, each costing between $30 and $100 million. At present, the market leaders in the large cabin/long-range market sector are Gulfstream, Bombardier, and Dassault.
Gulfstream has always had a lead in ultra-long range business jets and it still offers customers the greatest global range with the G650ER, which can carry 16 passengers non-stop over 7500 nmi. This extended range version of the best-selling G650 is also powered by two Rolls-Royce BR725 turbofans and has a ticket price of around $66 million.
Bombardier has always been a strong player at the high end of the market. Over the years its Challenger 600 series has captured a significant proportion of sales, benefiting from its large cabin volume and long range, but its larger Global Express series (costing between $50 and $70 million) has expanded beyond the Global 5000 and newer Global 6000 to the two latest models, the Global 7000 and Global 8000, both to be powered by Passport turbofans, each with 16,500-lb thrust. High speed will be a major feature (cruise at up to Mach 0.9). The large cabin on this pair of aircraft will be 20% larger than on the Global 6000, which will give them an edge on the latest Gulfstream G650ER, combined with a similar ultra-long range of almost 8000 nmi.
In Europe, Dassault’s Falcon family goes from strength to strength, incorporating advanced avionics and display systems, fly-by-wire controls, and sophisticated aerodynamics, with an intercontinental range combined with the ability to use relatively short runways with a slow approach speed and steep approach. This opens up the use of many airfields that are inaccessible to other large business or regional jets.
Last year Dassault announced its new 8X model, an enlarged version of its popular tri-jet 7X. Due to enter service in 2016, the 8X will feature a bigger, more spacious cabin and refined wing shape, and will also offer 6450-nmi range. It will be powered by three PW307D engines, each with 6720-lb thrust.
Dassault is also making rapid progress with the even more technically advanced 5X. This is an all-new design, with a wider cabin and a range of 5200 nmi, powered by Snecma’s new Silvercrest engines. It will feature a new digital flight control system with fully integrated moving control services, including a flaperon to provide even shorter and steeper landing performance than the 7X or 8X.
But while all size categories are once again growing, the superlight/mid-size market is the biggest in terms of aircraft numbers. With new aircraft costing between $13 and $30 million, there are executive jets in this size to meet a wide range of requirements. At the lighter end, the latest Learjet 75 from Bombardier is an upgrade of the model 45, and is powered by Honeywell TFE73140BR engines. Next step up is the latest upgraded Challenger, the 350, powered by Honeywell HTF7350 turbofans. Cessna is the leading supplier in this size category and it has successfully developed a product line that offers much variety, from the Citation Sovereign and Citation X to the new Latitude, powered by PW306D engines, and the Longitude, powered by Silvercrest engines.
The biggest potential threat to Bombardier and Cessna in this sector is coming in the shape of the all-new Embraer Legacy 450 and 500 models. Capable of carrying up to 10 passengers, and powered by Honeywell HTF7500E engines, they offer many advanced features, such as fly-by-wire and advanced avionics, more common on larger business jets, and bridge the gap neatly between super-light and mid-size models.
So, despite all the dire warnings a few years ago that the growth in business aviation was unsustainable, the facts have shown this worry to be unfounded, with more new aircraft appearing on the market every year, and new generation engines helping to make the business case for modern replacements and upgrades irresistible for Bombardier's Learjet 75 more and more customers.