Battle Of The Big Jets

Battle Of The Big Jets

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The ultra long-range jet segment is the pinnacle of private aviation and battleground for the fastest, furthest and finest aircraft. P1 pits the defending champion against a new contender and old adversary.

With demand in traditional markets stalling amid uncertainty over everything from Euro exits to commodity prices, many manufacturers seem to be banking on the big boys of bizav – those long-range, sleek, superfast executive jets. 

Demand in Asia and the Middle East especially is fuelling the development of ULR jets, with latest research offering further positive signs.

Financing solutions firm Global Jet Capital claims that 10% of mid to heavy private jets in Asia Pacific are aged 20 years or older, and 5% are at least 30 years old.  The average age of a business jet in the region is 16 years.

And research from Gama Aviation plc, the global aviation services company, shows 56% of the  Middle  East’s fleet of business aircraft are classified as medium to heavy, and 14% as business jet airliners.  The corresponding figures for the global fleet are 30% and 0.3%.

At the moment, the undisputed champion of this division is the excellent Gulfstream G650ER – flying discerning passengers faster, further and in greater comfort than the competition. Yet that competition is relatively sparse at the moment, with Bombardier boldly challenging the champ with its Global 6000 jet (more on that later).

But as with any great underdog story, there is a twist coming – in the shape of the feisty Dassault Falcon 8X which is due to begin deliveries later this year. So the big question is, how does the 8X measure up against the Global 6000 and the all-conquering G650ER? And what impact will increased competition have on three of business aviation’s behemoths?

Earlier this month at the Asian Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (ABACE) in Shanghai, Dassault’s new flagship Falcon made its China debut with no little fanfare. Remember, this is a company celebrating its centenary on the back of a bruising 2015 that saw sales stall significantly. Some people believed that the impending certification and delivery of the 8X could well be having an impact on current sales – with some prospective customers ‘holding out’ for the new, ultra long range executive jet. You can see their point. If you are in the market for a jet, and have a fondness for Falcon, there are reasons why you would wait for the latest model rather than investing in the admittedly attractive alternative.

The average lifespan of a business aircraft is around 15 years, with few people ‘upgrading’ with the frequency they might their personal electronic devices – but the smarts behind their decision is pretty much the same. Boffins in marketing science call it conjoint analysis and hazard rate modelling. Conjoint analysis involves asking customers how important certain features are to them (such as range, speed, cabin size). However, this method is imperfect as it takes a snapshot of the current market and products available. That’s where hazard rate modelling comes in – estimating the time between first purchase and replacement.

Three factors drive demand for a replacement aircraft – market conditions, condition of the existing aircraft and financial position of the company. Bearing those factors in mind, and with present uncertainty in the world, it’s perhaps understandable why demand for business aircraft pretty much across the board has been sluggish in the past 12 months. Weaker demand and an oversupply in the resale market also means upgrading is a tougher prospect.

Going back to conjoint analysis, let’s say you had your heart set on a Falcon 8X and were one of the early purchasers of the 7X, which entered service in June 2007. Falcons hold their value very well – up to 20% more than other leading aircraft – so there is a strong resale market and a 7X bought back then would pretty much be entering a phase in its life when it would be worth considering replacing.

Having presumably been a very happy customer of Dassault and impressed by the agility, speed and comfort of the 7X – chances are you would wait for the new 8X. A new 7X will cost around US$53 million, while the 8X is due to cost around US$57.5 million. With little relative difference in cost (it looks like less than 10%), the 8X seems to offer significantly more. It has a greater range (6,450nm is 500nm more than the 7X), while the cabin of the 8X is longer, adding 143 cubic feet of precious
space. The 7X is however lighter than the 8X (by 3,000lbs) and requires a shorter landing field (80 feet difference). The three Pratt & Witney PW307D engines of the 8X are more efficient though, while avionics are also upgraded.

The three aircraft in the Falcon 8X flight test program have nearly completed certification test requirements. FAA and EASA certification is expected by midyear and entry into service in the second half of 2016.

dassault8x

Dassault has listened to customer comments and demand for greater range – pushing their Falcon into ultra long-range territory for the first time. With eight passengers and three crew, the Falcon 8X will be capable of flying 6,450 nm (11,945 km) non-stop at M.80 and connect Beijing with New York; Hong Kong with London and Shanghai with Los Angeles.

Dassault also claims the Falcon 8X will be up to 35% more fuel efficient than any other aircraft in the ultra-long range segment and offer a significant decrease in community noise and NOx emissions.

In addition to the claimed quietest cabin and the most advanced digital flight control system in business aviation, the big trijet will be available with Dassault’s new FalconEye Combined Vision System.

There is little doubt the 8X is going to be the biggest and best Falcon yet, with the 5X wide cabin option (due to enter service in 2020, following problems with the Silvercrest engines) offering a genuine alternative (less capacity, wider cabin, shorter range, more fuel efficient).

So, how will the 8X shape up in a segment dominated by the most in-demand business jet on the market – the Gulfstream G650ER?

There are similarities between the flagship business jets of Gulfstream and Dassault. Both, for instance, are improvements on existing models, with the primary aim of adding extra range. The impressive and popular G650 was already a market leader in terms of range – being capable of carrying eight passengers and four crew 7,000nm at Mach 0.85. Gulfstream then went on to make the best even better, adding an additional 500nm to the already world-shrinking range. That speed is also significant, with Gulfstream claiming it flies from London to LA 30 minutes faster than other aircraft of its class – or an hour faster from New York to Tokyo.

gulfstream-g650-er

The G650 and G650ER hold more than 50 world records. In 2015, a G650ER flew around the world in one stop – something no other business jet has managed.

But it’s not just the incredible range and speed that gets Gulfstream customers excited. The G650 has the lowest cabin altitude of any business jet. At 41,000ft, it is pressurised to just 3,000ft – that reduces passenger fatigue and sees them arrive fresh as well as fast.

And that cabin is capacious – with a width of 8ft 6in, height of 6ft 5in and length of 46ft 10in making a volume of 2,138 cubic feet.

Certified as recently as October 2014, the G650ER has quickly become the ultimate business aircraft, even with its hefty US$68 million price tag. The simple fact is, Gulfstream can’t build these jets quickly enough to meet demand, and there is a four-year waiting list. Such was the clamour for the G650 and ER, reports were widely circulating of the resale market pushing aircraft at up to US$15 million above the asking price.

High-profile customers include casino king Steve Wynn – whose own aircraft flew a record 8,010nm from Singapore to Las Vegas in 14 hours and 32 minutes – and Qatar Executive.

“It is an honour to be the first Gulfstream G650ER air charter operator in the Middle East,” said Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive HE Akbar Al Baker. “The G650ER will take our passengers farther, faster and in more luxury than ever before.”

There is little doubt the Falcon 8X is entering a tough segment and while it may not be able to compete with the G650ER in terms of range and speed, there are more benefits aside from the US$10 million saving.

Dassault clearly has an eye on the important Chinese market, and the extra range of the 8X over the 7X may only be 500nm but it allows them to link city pairs such as London to Hong Kong and Beijing to Los Angeles.

Falcons are also renowned and respected for their agility, not least their short field ability. The 7X is already the only aircraft in its class to be certified for operations into London City Airport, and Dassault expects the 8X to match that.

The 8X is also able to land at 85% of its maximum take-off weight (MTOW) – allowing it to perform short hops ahead of longer flights before taking on more fuel.

Perhaps most impressive is the Falcon family’s fuel efficiency. Dassault claims their aircraft can use up to 35% less than its competitors – how exactly they do that is a closely guarded secret.

When the 8X was launched in 2014, Dassault made some bold claims about comparable costs of ownership. Dassault said that over six years, and 600 flight hours per year, the 8X would cost US$22 million. That compares to US$30.5 million for a G550, or US$33 million for a Bombardier Global 6000. Dassault assumed a higher resale value for part of this difference.

“Our goal is to deliver the most comfortable and smoothest performing aircraft on the market, with all systems and features working like clockwork from day one,” said Dassault Aviation Chairman and CEO Eric Trappier.

“We are delighted and thrilled with the way the Falcon 8X program is proceeding,” said Eric Trappier, Chairman/CEO of Dassault Aviation. “The flight test campaign has been flawless and the aircraft will be in initial customers’ hands this summer, just as planned when we launched development three years ago.”

The Falcon 8X is sold out until the end of 2017, which is believed to be 50 units. About three quarters of customers are upgrading from a 7X or a Falcon 900, according to Dassault.

It will be interesting to see how well the 8X is received, and while the arrival of the Falcon may not dent the domination of Gulfstream’s G650ER, it could have significant bearing on Bombardier’s Global 6000 which also sits in the ultra long range jet segment.

global-600-bombardier

The Canadian transport giant has had high-profile problems recently, with delays to commercial aircraft programmes in particular hitting the manufacturer hard. However, the Global business jet range is still impressing customers around the world. The 6000 is capable of flying eight passengers and four crew 6,000nm (hence the name) at Mach 0.85.

Costing US$62 million, the Global 6000 is around US$6 million cheaper than the list price of the G650ER, but US$4-5 million more than the upcoming Falcon 8X. Like the 8X (if it meets expectations), the Global 6000 is nimble, and certified to fly into short field and difficult airports including London City. At the moment the Global 6000 is the only jet in its class to fly into London City, but all that could of course change when the 8X gains certification.

The major worry for Bombardier is that the 8X looks a more attractive proposition than the 6000. The 8X is cheaper, has a longer range, and running costs are significantly less. The Global 6000 does have a slightly longer and wider cabin than the 8X, but both fall significantly short of the G650ER.

The situation for Bombardier, and for the ultra long-range jet segment, could have been very different. The longer range Global 7000 – capable of 7,300nm – was due to start deliveries this year, but the programme has been delayed by two years due to development “challenges”. A Global 8000 – which would become the world’s longest-range business jet at 7,900nm – was originally scheduled for 2017 but that too is delayed by at least the same period.

The Global 7000 and 8000 were both announced as far back as 2010, and while the G650 gained certification in 2012, we are still waiting for Bombardier’s promising jets to materialise. The Global 7000 would be a full 11 feet longer than the Global 6000, which would give it a cabin around 20% larger than the G650. The Global 8000 would be only slightly larger than the 6000, but having that market-leading range, coupled with impressive speed and agility, would have made it a genuine title contender.

As it stands, Bombardier looks like it will lose ground – not only to Gulfstream but also to Dassault. If the 8X manages to gain traction in the sector and establish itself in important markets such as Asia, the Globals could find themselves arriving late to a party where they could have been the main attraction. 

THE TALE OF THE TAPE:

head-to-head

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