7 Heaven: New Business Aircraft

7 Heaven: New Business Aircraft

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PC 24 Geneva

P1 profiles seven of the best new business aircraft you can buy and fly very soon. From single-engine turboprops to luxury long-range jets, we look at the development of these aircraft, what they bring to their segments and how they might compete in a tough market.

PILATUS PC-24

If you missed our cover star last issue, then shame on you! We had the Pilatus PC-24 on our cover in recognition of the SUV of the sky’s show debut in Geneva.

The prototype Super Versatile Jet (SVJ) featured on the static display at EBACE and drew quite a crowd – despite its hard-to spot location. This aircraft, and a second prototype, have between them amassed more than 500 hours of testing in 300 flights.

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“In the past few months we have conducted numerous important tests to explore the flight envelope and observe how the aircraft handles in natural icing conditions,” said Oscar J. Schwenk, Pilatus Aircraft’s chairman of the board.

“The results are extremely positive and confirm that the PC-24 will be a superb aircraft in line with the high standards of our ‘Pilatus Class’ — exactly as our customers expect.”

The Swiss company’s PC-12 single engine turboprop has been the envy of many manufacturers (see Textron’s SETP in this feature). It’s the best-selling aircraft of its kind, with nearly 1,400 units sold to date, clocking up more than 5 million flight hours.

A big part of the appeal of the PC-12 is the large, rear cargo door fitted as standard, and the ability to take off from unmade runways. And it is these two USPs that Pilatus transfers to its upcoming PC-24 jet.

With more than 80 orders, the Stans, Switzerland-based company has already closed the order book. However, potential customers at EBACE were able to check out the new cabin configuration, which made its debut at Pilatus’ indoor exhibit.

Six colour schemes will be available, each (perhaps oddly) named after a famous ski resort such as St Moritz, Zermatt or Aspen. Each will focus on colours found in nature, and Pilatus teamed up with BMW’s Designworks for the interior.

Customers can choose between several cabin configurations with seating usually for six passengers. A vacuum lavatory is available and there are privacy doors between the cockpit and cabin. A cabin management system allows passengers to control lighting and environmental features through an iPad app.

The aft cabin provides space for a closet or galley, while the cargo door increases the versatility of the jet. The spacious main cabin features a flat floor which can be divided into separate zones.

The PC-24 is due to hit first deliveries at the end of 2017, so the biggest headache for customers could be that waiting list – but it certainly looks like an aircraft that’s going to be worth its wait in gold.

In terms of competition, Pilatus has been crafty concocting its own segment in the SVJ, but really it’s a light jet with benefits, and as such will go up against the likes of the Cessna Citation CJ4 and Embraer Phenom 300.


EMBRAER LEGACY 450

Press conferences at EBACE and NBAA have been pretty tepid of late, with little or no news for the assembled throngs to repurpose.

Legacy 450
The Legacy 450 is packed with technology for pilot and passengers

However, reading between the corporate lines, there were some very clear key messages coming from the Embraer Executive Jets President and CEO Marco Pellegrini. Yes, there was the photo-opportunity of the announcement of 23 new jets for a Mexican operator, but beyond that Pellegrini on more than one occasion stated that he wanted his jets to be “different” and “unique”.

This is no bad thing, of course, and being able to stand out from the competition is imperative, especially when markets are slow.

The new Legacy 450 epitomises that philosophy, with Embraer looking to top the mid-light competition in key areas, then add some icing to that proverbial cake in a package that’s also competitively priced.

The 450 is the fastest jet in its segment (mid-light) and has full digital flight controls and fly-by-wire technology – making it unique amongst its peers. It has the largest cabin (a full 5 inches wider than its nearest competitor) and great runway performance.

Announced at the same press conference was a small detail – but one which again shows how Embraer is trying to be different. The new cabin tech panel allows passengers to quickly access flight information and access cabin controls. This will be fitted in the 450.

The Legacy 450 seats up to 9 passengers and has a range of 2,900nm and can fly at a maximum of Mach 0.83.

Its fair to say pilots will love the technology – easing their workloads and providing state-of-the-art avionics as well as optional extras like Embraer’s Enhanced Vision System.

But we feel it’s the passengers – the people ultimately footing the bill – that are going to feel the most pampered. That extensive cabin has height as well as width (a full 6-foot flat floor) making it the most spacious in class. It also has the best pressurisation – helping passengers to stay fresh, especially on longer flights. There are also two fully berthable, lie-flat seats, and a vacuum toilet that comes
as standard.

Production of the Legacy 450 has just begun at the newly expanded facility in Melbourne, Florida, with the first jet off that production line expected to be delivered as early as mid-December. What a perfect Christmas gift (Embraer, our address is on page 3).

So far two Legacy 450s have been built, and the jet is listed at around US$16.5 million. However, launch customer Les Goldberg – CEO of LMG Show Technology and Entertainment Technology Partners – says his jet is worth every cent.

“There is a certain quality of fit and finish you expect when you are buying a multi-million dollar aircraft, and this exceeded my expectations,” says Goldberg.

“It gives you the best ride and it is absolutely a beautiful machine.”

We can’t argue with that. Time to form an orderly queue…


TEXTRON SETP

One of the most talked-about aircraft on display at EBACE last month was the Single Engine Turbo Prop (SETP) from Textron.

TEXTRON SETP
Textron’s SETP is so good, all they need now is a catchy name…

Designed specifically to go head-to- head with the best-selling PC-12, this clean sheet design looks like it will offer the Swiss market leader some much-needed competition.

Textron revealed further program details around the SETP in Geneva, including performance specification targets and the program’s timeline. The company also announced that letters of intent are currently being accepted.

Those details though are still a bit sketchy (and Textron executives were keen to point out that they expect to over-deliver on current stated specs), but let’s remember this aircraft was only announced last August. Textron says the SETP (let’s hope they give this bird a decent moniker soon) will have cruise speeds of up to 285 knots and full fuel payload of 1,100 pounds. With a range of 1,600 nautical miles at high speed cruise with one pilot and four passengers, the aircraft will be able to fly from Los Angeles to Chicago, New York to Miami, London to Moscow or Geneva to Istanbul.

Textron also claims it will have the widest and most comfortable cabin in its segment while offering best-in-class operating costs.

“Developed with the pilot and passenger at the forefront, we have designed this airplane to be the clear winner in this segment, from class-leading performance and ownership costs, to superior cabin comfort and versatility,” said Scott Ernest, president and CEO, Textron Aviation. “We have been intentional with every detail throughout the aircraft, resulting in an exceptional airplane that is sure to impress owners, pilots and passengers alike.”

Pilots will benefit from Garmin’s G3000 avionics suite, while the aircraft will be powered by GE’s new advanced turboprop engine.

Influenced by the PC-12, no doubt, the SETP will have a class-leading 53-inch cargo door, making the aircraft versatile and suited to cargo and special missions. The flat-floor cabin is also the largest in the segment. When in passenger mode, the SETP will seat up to eight (plus a single pilot).

“This aircraft will be a perfect complement to our existing Cessna and Beechcraft product lineup and will give our customers the opportunity to move seamlessly through our family of aircraft, regardless of their mission,”
adds Earnest.

Although first flight is not planned until 2018, this is certainly an aircraft to make you sit up and take notice. For a better idea of how it might look and feel, there is a cabin prototype currently available for prospective customers at company HQ in Wichita, and it’s also likely to make the trip to Oshkosh this summer. We imagine the good folks at Pilatus will be watching development of this one carefully too.


CIRRUS VISION SF50CHALLENGER 650

As reported last issue, one of the industry’s long-running sagas seems to be coming to an end.

Cirrus Vision
The Cirrus Vision SF50 Jet will cost less than US$2m

The first production Cirrus Vision Jet completed its inaugural flight in Duluth, Minnesota on 5 May. This set the Vision Jet up nicely for FAA certification and subsequent customer deliveries.

Coined P1 (after their favourite magazine, allegedly), this first production jet has allowed Cirrus to prove out each and every design and build process along the way. Item by item, test by test, P1 represents the maturity of every stage of production in the Vision Jet program.

It’s been a long time coming. Back in 2008, this aircraft flew into Oshkosh and the order book started to fill instantly. But with the well-documented funding problems it was put on the back burner. At one stage, it seemed the aircraft would never see the light of day, but in 2012 it re-emerged and now, finally, it looks like certification could happen within weeks.

Then, we have heard this all before. Only last year, in an interview with Todd Simmons (now President of Customer Experience at Cirrus), he said the Vision would be delivered before the end of 2015.

But then, starting a new project from scratch is never an easy task, and many manufacturers have launched with a fanfare and sunk with a whimper. At least it looks as if Vision will become a reality.

“We’re not trying to re-invent the jet,” said Simmons. “We’ve built 6,000 aeroplanes, so we’re confident with composites and carbon fibre we’re not re-inventing the way we’re building aeroplanes.”

“All that said there has been an enormous human effort. We’ve had more than 200 engineers, technicians and designers working incredible hours, and it’s still incredibly difficult to get this done. But it’s who we are at Cirrus.”

As soon as certification is complete Cirrus is ready to go with deliveries to patient customers.

“The ideal scenario is for us to deliver as many as 90 aircraft in the first 12 months. That is ambitious, but we feel we can go even higher. We want to make sure that nobody is waiting too long for their aircraft. Right now we have positions in excess of 550 reserved.”

So, what is all the fuss about? Well, the Cirrus Vision SF50 Jet is a VLJ made from composites, and fitted with the famed Cirrus Parachute System. It can seat six passengers and has a cruise speed of 300kts, and range of around 715nm. Basically, the SF50 bridges the gap between a turboprop and light jet.

But here’s the big news – it costs less than US$2 million. That’s 50% less than an Eclipse 500, less than half the cost of a Phenom 100E or the new HondaJet.

Yes, both the Phenom 100E and HondaJet have superior speed and range, but the purchase price difference is compelling, as are the significantly lower operating costs.

Better late than never, we say…


CHALLENGER 650

Unlike some of the other new aircraft here, the Challenger 650 has solid foundations to build on – which is good news for manufacturer Bombardier which has weathered a severe storm of late.

CHALLENGER 650
Bombardier’s Challenger 650 is a keenly priced large jet

Let’s not forget that Bombardier is the world’s leading business aircraft manufacturer, shipping more  units across its portfolio (which also includes Learjet) than anyone else.

And anyone who attended EBACE should have been impressed by the Global 6000 and humungous Global 7000 – which could be a genuine game-changer for Bombardier. But before then, there is the not insignificant matter of the Challenger 650, which will finally be available for European customers this year after gaining EASA full type certification.

“Our Challenger 650 aircraft successfully entered into service in 2015 and is now about to make its European debut in 2016. Demand for this aircraft is strong around the world and with certification now in-hand, we are eager for EASA-registered customers to experience this brand new jet,” said David Coleal, President, Bombardier Business Aircraft.

“Customers who are already operating the aircraft are delighted with its new cabin design, increased comfort and added productivity.”

You may notice a recurring theme here – as the Challenger 650, much like the Legacy 450, opts for a widest in class cabin and greater passenger comfort and connectivity as selling points. In fact, the sales blurb tells a pretty compelling story for the owner, with high-end comfort, reliability and top-rated customer support. Bombardier also says the Challenger 650 has “unmatched dependability” and “the lowest direct operating costs in its class”.

So what is the Challenger 650 going up against? Well, being in the Large Jets category, there is some stiff competition from the likes of the Falcon 7X, Gulfstream 450 Embraer’s own 650 (the Legacy 650, that is). The Challenger’s range of 4,020nm puts it ahead of Embraer’s 650, while the list price is pretty much the same at around US$32 million. That makes the Challenger about US$9 million cheaper than a G450, and US$21 million less than the 7X – although both of those aircraft have superior range, the 7X vastly so.

The Challenger 650’s enhanced engines offer greater thrust, which enable shorter take-off distance, extra payload capacity or greater range capabilities out of challenging airports. The jet connects London to New York, Dubai to London and Sao Paulo to Miami non-stop.

For pilots, the 650 features the  Bombardier Vision flight deck, with the latest generation Flight Management Computer, Synthetic Vision System (SVS), MultiScan weather radar and HUD with Enhanced Vision System (EVS). 

Challenger 600 Series jets are the most delivered Medium category aircraft of all time in Europe, and there is no reason to believe this Bombardier will fail to live up to those high standards and be a real hit with customers.


CITATION LONGITUDE

Good old Textron has another new entry on our chart, with the impressive Cessna Citation Longitude.

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The Citation Longitude will make up a family of three – with the Latitude and upcoming Hemisphere

The Longitude will join the Latitude and upcoming Hemisphere to complete a new, large-cabin Citation family of three aircraft.

“Driven by customer input, the Longitude  combines the ideal mix of performance, cabin comfort and industry leading technology,” said Scott Ernest, Textron Aviation president and CEO. “And, along with the Citation’s proven design and dependability, the  Longitude  is designed to revolutionise the super-midsize segment.” 

We hear plenty of turgid talk embedded in press releases, but read between the bombast and now and again you pick up some gems – like with the Longitude.

Setting a new standard in the super-midsize category, the  Citation  Longitude  has seating for up to 12 passengers, including an optional crew jumpseat.

It also has a stand-up, flat-floor cabin with a standard double-club configuration, allowing the most legroom in class.

With fully berthable seats and a class-leading, in-flight accessible walk-in baggage compartment, the Longitude  is designed specifically for maximum passenger comfort – including the lowest cabin altitude in its category at 5,950 feet. State-of-the-art cabin technology allows passengers to manage their environment and entertainment from any mobile device, while standard Internet maximises productivity in flight.

Customers can choose from six colour schemes, all with quirky monikers – how about the contemporary French Roast, or the Carnegie, inspired by the famous New York theatre?

The Longitude almost sounds too good to be true – if you are in the market for this class of aircraft, the stats are impressive. But it gets even better.

The clean-sheet design  integrates the latest technology throughout the aircraft, promising customers the lowest ownership costs in this category. The Longitude also features the Garmin G5000 flight deck and is powered by FADEC-equipped Honeywell HTF7700L turbofan engines.

The aircraft has a maximum cruise speed of 476 knots and a four-passenger high-speed range of 3,400nm. 

“We believe that this range and performance is what the market wants for typical missions in this class,” Ernest said.

“No other business jet in this space matches the  Longitude’s combination of range, payload, cruise speed, standard features and lower total ownership costs.”

The  Longitude  is on track for first flight this year with anticipated entry into service in 2017. 

Costing around US$26 million, this could be a real winner for Cessna.


DASSAULT FALCON 8X

If you don’t know the Falcon 8X intimately then you clearly haven’t been paying attention. here’s a recap.

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Unveiled just two years ago – at EBACE in May 2014 – the Dassault Falcon 8X is the new ultra-long range flagship for this premium private jet marquee. Built on the success of the magnifique 7X, the 8X has the greatest range of any Falcon at 6,450nm – connecting Beijing to New York, Hong Kong to London or Los Angeles to Moscow.

A quick glance at those stated city pairs will give you some clue as to the originally intended market for the 8X, which may now require a rethink. The extra 500nm range that the 8X has over the 7X may seem small but it enables Dassault to connect those Chinese city pairs for the first time. As little as a couple of years ago, China was still being touted as the Next Big Thing for business aviation, with a voracious appetite for the biggest and best (and most expensive) brands. A Falcon would certainly have fitted those criteria, but with demand dipping faster than a diving dragon, just who is going to buy the 8X when it hits the market this year?

At EBACE 2016 the Dassault chiefs were out in force to let us k ow the programme was going exactly as planned, with FAA and EASA certification expected mid-year and entry into service by the end of the summer, following completion of gruelling operational testing in some of the toughest climates on earth.

However, the climate we all need to be most wary of is the current economic one.

No matter, the 8X is an impressive trijet that demands attention – not just for that range but also the renowned Falcon agility and almost mythical fuel economy (how do they do that?).

That global testing tour consisted of 65 flights covering 55,000nm, taking in 46 destinations, including ultra-long range flights from Singapore and Sao Paulo to Paris and from New York to Abu Dhabi. A total of 26 test and operational pilots took part in the tests.

“Feedback from the operational trials – cabin comfort, air conditioning, and in particular cabin noise – was excellent,” said Olivier Villa, Senior Vice President, Dassault Aviation Civil Aircraft. “Dassault has incorporated new innovations with the aircraft insulation which will allow us to lower the noise level by 2dB compared to the Falcon 7X.”

Test aircraft S/n 01 will now be used to certify Dassault’s new FalconEye Combined Vision System (CVS). FalconEye is the first HUD in the industry to blend synthetic and enhanced vision capabilities.

This is all great news, but with production ramping up at the company’s Merignac plant – 24 units are in final assembly, with 11 more in completion – it will be fascinating to see how this Falcon fares against economic headwinds. Dassault delivered 55 aircraft last year, down from 66 in 2014 and 77 in 2013.

The good news is that this aircraft seems to tick all the right boxes, and those impressive fuel figures (up to 35% better than its competitors) should make it a compelling choice, even with its US$58 million list price. ν