After suffering a severe slump in demand during the global economic crisis of 2009, the business aviation sector has enjoyed a rebound, with particular emphasis on larger, longer-range models, writes Andrzej Jeziorski.
With its focus on luxury products for private or corporate users, business aviation suffered more than most aerospace industry sectors during the global economic slump that took hold late in 2008 and hit bottom the following year.
As businesses sharply tightened their belts, aircraft manufacturers found themselves facing a dearth of new orders and cancellations of existing ones, with some having to cut output and jobs in response.
“The precipitous and rapid decline of the business jet industry in 2009 resulted in cancellations exceeding gross orders, causing a significant reduction in firm order backlogs and aircraft deliveries,” Canadian manufacturer Bombardier says in its latest 20-year market forecast. “During the first half of 2010, however, the ‘green shoots’ of industry recovery were evident.”
Now, however, the future is once again looking brighter, with renewed interest from the market focusing in particular on larger, longer-range aircraft models at a time when the major manufacturers are offering new flagship products to the market.
Business jet utilization rose significantly in early 2010, Bombardier says. “As anticipated, positive net orders for business jets resumed, albeit at a low rate. Furthermore, business aviation penetration in the fastest expanding world economies, China and India in particular, is accelerating. The stage is being set for a full industry recovery,” the company says.
Of all the market segments, the large-aircraft category – covering aircraft priced between US$38 million and US$60 million, offering more than 5,000 nautical miles’ range and 1,500-3,000 cubic feet of cabin volume – will grow fastest in the next two decades, Bombardier predicts.
“The recent shift in demand towards more international customers has driven the sales of larger Aircraft,” the manufacturer says. “Contrary to US customers, who generally enter the business jet market in the light category and then trade up, many international customers acquire their first aircraft within the large category. Customers in this category also seem more willing to pay a premium for additional comfort and technology than those who purchase light and medium category aircraft.”
In October last year, during the 63rd annual meeting and convention of the US National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), Bombardier announced that it would produce two new models in its top-of-the line Global range – the Global 7000 and 8000, one of which prioritises range while the other offers more cabin space. Industry observers judged that the new jets were announced in an effort to overshadow rival Gulfstream’s new G650.
Gulfstream had begun test- flying its fastest, longest-range business jet in November 2009, although the programme suffered a severe setback in early April with the loss of one of the company’s test aircraft in a fatal crash during take-off trials. Flight-testing of the other four aircraft was suspended immediately following the crash, until the manufacturer and the US Federal Aviation Administration judge it safe to resume (see related story, page 6).
With the additions of the 7000 and 8000 models, Bombardier says its flagship Global aircraft family “now uniquely covers the large, ultra long-range category with four aircraft models”, including the current Global 5000 and Global Express XRS.
“The Global aircraft platform gained instant worldwide recognition for design and performance when it was first introduced in 1996, and Global aircraft have since become renowned as the industry’s most advanced jets,” says Steve Ridolfi, president of Bombardier Business Aircraft. “The Global 7000 and Global 8000 jets will give our customers the ability to reach more destinations non-stop than ever before, delivering unprecedented levels of performance, flexibility, and comfort.”
With a spacious, four-zone cabin, Bombardier says the Global 7000 “sets the benchmark for a new category of large business jets”. The cabin has an interior volume of 2,637 cubic feet (74.67 cubic metres), offering passengers 20 percent more living space than the cabin of the “current industry leader”. The aircraft will be capable of cruising at Mach 0.9 and will offer a range of 7,300 nautical miles (13,520km) at a cruise speed of Mach 0.85.
The Global 7000 will be able to fly London-Singapore, New York-Dubai or Beijing-Washington non-stop with ten passengers. Entry into service is scheduled for 2016.
The Global 8000, on the other hand, will place emphasis on range, flying further than any other business jet available. The aircraft will feature a three-zone cabin with 2,236 cubic feet of interior volume and a range of 7,900 nautical miles at Mach 0.85.
The aircraft will be able to operate Sydney-Los Angeles, Hong Kong-New York and Mumbai-New York routes non-stop with eight passengers. The Global 8000 will also offer high-speed cruise of Mach 0.90 and will enter into service in 2017.
Bombardier says its latest Global models will have an all-new, high-speed transonic wing, designed to optimise aerodynamic efficiency, combined with Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics and next-generation General Electric TechX 16,500 lb- thrust-engines.
The airframe manufacturer says the new engines will “deliver significant efficiency and emissions advantages”, including reduced nitrous oxide emissions – 50 percent below the International Civil Aviation Organization’s upcoming Civil Aircraft Emissions Protocol (CAEP-6) regulations. Bombardier is targeting an 8 percent improvement in fuel efficiency target for the new aircraft compared with the current Global Express XRS, which is powered by Rolls-Royce BR710 turbofans.
“These aircraft are designed to outperform all others, connecting more key city pairs non-stop worldwide through a combination of outstanding range, fuel efficiency and balanced field length,” Bombardier says.
Significant design elements are being retained from current Global aircraft, with a (mostly) common empennage across the entire product line.
Both aircraft will include cabin features designed for maximum passenger comfort, such as: increased natural lighting via windows that each provide approximately 80 percent more surface area than on current Global aircraft; a large baggage area that is accessible in flight; a crew rest area equipped with berthable seating; a spacious galley with optimised meal preparation and storage possibilities; and increased flexibility in cabin configuration through an innovative approach to cabin zones.
The Global 7000 and 8000 originated in 2008 as a single aircraft concept called the M170, which was to offer 7,000 nautical miles’ range at roughly the same size as the Global Express XRS. Input from about 150 Bombardier customers showed demand split down the middle, with some customers favouring more range, others more cabin space.
Gulfstream’s G650 has shown that it can offer a high-speed Mach 0.9 cruise range of 5,000 nautical miles, and Bombardier hopes to beat that. The Global 7000 and 8000 will be able to fly 5,100 nautical miles and 5,650 nautical miles, respectively, at Mach 0.9.
This performance comes with a hefty price tag, however, with the 7000 and 8000 selling for about US$65 million at 2010 prices, compared with the US$58.5 million cost of the G650.
As of early April, when Gulfstream was forced to call a halt to G650 flights because of the crash at Roswell, New Mexico, the fleet of five test aircraft had accumulated more than 1,570 flight-test hours as the company strove for US and European certification during 2011, with deliveries scheduled to begin in 2012.
The G650 is Savannah-based Gulfstream’s first clean-sheet aircraft design since the early 1960s, when it developed the Gulfstream II business jet. The company announced the project in March 2008, saying that the aircraft’s ultra-large cabin and long-range would set a new standard of price-versus performance for business jets.
“The G650 offers the longest range, fastest speed, largest cabin and the most advanced cockpit in the Gulfstream fleet,” the manufacturer says.
At Mach 0.85, the jet is capable of travelling 7,000 nautical miles, but its maximum operating speed is Mach 0.925, making it the fastest civil aircraft flying, marginally beating the Cessna Citation X’s top speed of Mach 0.92. By comparison, Gulfstream’s current flagship G550 can fly a distance of 6,744 nautical miles at its cruise speed of Mach 0.8.
The G650 can also climb to an altitude of 51,000 feet, allowing it to avoid traffic congestion and adverse weather.
The jet was designed with significant input from customers in the manufacturer’s Advanced Technology Customer Advisory Team (ATCAT), comprising 75 Gulfstream owners from the 70 countries where the company’s aircraft are operated. The team came up with design criteria including a wider cabin than the G550, longer range and a higher cruise speed, with the same take-off distance and maximum operating altitude.
Cabin comfort was a key design consideration. The unfinished cabin is 8.5ft wide and 6.4ft high, offering the largest cabin cross-section of any current business jet. A 7ft-wide floor offers space for bigger seats, wider aisles and the ability to seat three across.
The cabin is pressurised to an altitude of 4,850ft when the aircraft is flying at 51,000ft, and 2,800ft when flying at 41,000ft, reducing passenger fatigue, increasing alertness and boosting productivity. It also offers reduced noise levels to provide a more relaxing environment, with quieter air distribution and independently vented lavatories.
Apart from Bombardier’s latest proposals, the G650’s cabin windows are the largest in the industry, at 28 inches by 20.5 inches, offering more natural light and giving travellers the feeling of more space in the cabin.
The G650 cockpit has the same basic layout as the G550. As a result, Gulfstream says the aircraft should be able to be flown on a common type rating with the GV and the company’s other large-cabin business jets, with minimal differences in training.
The new aircraft will feature Gulfstream’s latest PlaneView II cockpit, derived from Honeywell’s Primus Epic avionics platform. The flight deck features: four, 14-inch, adaptive liquid crystal displays; three standard PlaneBook computer tablets; a standby multifunction controller that combines current display controller functions with standby flight instruments; and a fully automatic, three-dimensional scanning weather radar with an integral terrain database for efficient ground-clutter elimination.
The G650 is to be exclusively powered by Rolls-Royce’s new BR725 engine, generating 16,100lb of thrust at take-off, or about 4.6 percent more than the BR710 engine that powers the G550. The turbofan is a variant of the BR710 manufactured by Rolls-Royce in Germany, and features a larger, 50-inch swept fan with 24 blades for improved flow, increased efficiency, reduced noise and lower emissions.
The airframe manufacturer estimates the G650 will burn about 7,257kg of fuel on a 3,000 nautical mile flight. That is about 910kg less than the G550 and about 1,360kg less than Bombardier’s Global Express XRS.
It remains unclear how Gulfstream’s certification and delivery schedule for the G650 may be affected by the 2 April crash, which killed two pilots and two test engineers on board the aircraft.
The accident happened during take-off performance tests at Roswell, New Mexico, when aircraft serial number 6002 had already completed about 2.5 hours of testing, including brake checks. As the jet became airborne at about 9:30am local time, its right wingtip dropped and touched the runway.
The aircraft then descended, its landing gear collapsing on impact with the ground, skidded and caught fire, coming to rest upright about 200ft from the control tower. Firefighters took 15 minutes to extinguish the blaze.
Accidents like these are more shocking because they are so rare, and there is no reason not to think G650 development will continue once a cause has been established. Gulfstream’s fifth G650 test aircraft completed its maiden flight on 24 January, reaching a maximum altitude of 51,000ft and a test-point top speed of Mach 0.94 – 1.6 percent above the aircraft’s normal maximum cruising speed.
With Bombardier predicting demand for 2,200 large-category business jets between 2010 and 2029, there is certainly sufficient demand for such products, and if Gulfstream can bring its new flagship aircraft to market as planned in 2012, it will have a four-year head start over Bombardier’s latest Global models.