The downturn in the business jet market has been a long while returning to a more optimistic outlook. The expected bounce-back is not here yet, and sales are still struggling, especially in the middle and lower end of the market. Though even in the high end where procurement funding isn’t an issue, there is also a famine of firm orders.
However, all the major manufacturers have used this relatively quiet period, following the post-2008 slump, to invest in the design and development of new products, and sales teams think that as they arrive in service customers will consider it to be the right time once again to start replacing older models.
There are now many such new models coming through, close to certification, and it is hoped in the manufacturing community that a combination of higher cabin standards, longer range, and enhanced efficiency will tempt big-spending bizjet customers to get things moving again. This is still a highly competitive market and almost all sub-sectors are suffering from over-supply of current models, but a new generation offering significant advances are just-around-the-corner and getting closer all the time.
On July 5, at Bordeaux-Merignac, France, Dassault’s latest and most sophisticated bizjet, the twin engine Falcon 5X, made its first flight. This aircraft is no mere evolutionary re-vamp of the highly successful Falcon family, but an all-new design that offers a significant step-up in specification and performance.
When the aircraft lifted off close to the Dassault final assembly plant, its two-hour flight represented the start of preliminary air tests before the commencement of the full flight test campaign, which will begin early in 2018. That will carry out validation and certification tests. The initial flying program will allow a certain amount of airframe and systems data to be collected that could not be generated during a ground test campaign, undertaken earlier this year, and beyond simulation, and is intended to streamline the development process.
The ground test campaign included ground runs in addition to low- and high-speed taxi tests. What has held up the flight test program has been the delay with the new Safran Silvercrest engines, which are also of a next-generation design, featuring advanced fan blades and highly efficient performance with high thrust, low fuel burn, and low noise and CO2 emissions.
An interim standard of Silvercrest engines are fitted to the first Falcon 5X and Dassault is awaiting definitive certifiable engines meeting the full specification before starting the full flight test program. The company has been assured by Safran that the engine set-backs will be overcome. “We will closely monitor the validation tests on the modified Silvercrest, scheduled over the coming months, as their results will be critical for meeting the 5X entry into service in 2020,” said Eric Trappier, Chairman and CEO, Dassault Aviation.
The new Falcon 5X is said to have the tallest and widest cabin of any bizjet, apart from corporate versions of larger commercial jets. Dassault is calling the new aircraft the wide-body Falcon. It has new-generation digital flight controls and a new ultra-efficient wing, bringing greater maneuverability, and is able to use small airports with its good runway performance and exploit its small parking footprint.
The advanced wing and flap design permits it to land at a slow speed, equivalent to a turboprop airplane and Dassault claims that its fuel burn will be significantly lower than any other bizjet in its class.
A flock of new aircraft are in the development pipeline and all due to enter service later in 2017. The Textron Cessna Citation Longitude is approaching series production, and is that company’s super-mid-size bizjet offering and the largest and newest member of the Citation family. The type entered flight testing late last year and a fourth example joined the test team in May. This was the first to be fully fitted out with cabin furnishings, which helps the marketing effort ahead of the expected certification in December.
Gulfstream is another leader in the high-end bizjet sector and is currently well into the development and flight testing of two new models, the G500 and extended range G600. These are all-new and the G500 is due to achieve certification by the end of this year, with the G600 some 12 months later.
There can be little doubt the business market is soon going to have a whole new dog-fight on its hands as newer, better performing products become available and everyone concerned is hoping very much that this will end a prolonged period of uncertainty and introduce a more dynamic surge in demand.