Completion capacity crunch

 - September 21, 2007, 6:09 AM

 Make no mistake, Dassault is having another record year. But a lengthy production backlog for the Falcon 7X is starting to put strains on capacity, particularly at the French manufacturer’s Little Rock, Ark. completion center. The site of a $20 million expansion project now under way, the center is adding much-needed paint hangars, engineering shops and storage space.

Dassault chairman and CEO Charles Edelstenne, speaking at a corporate press conference earlier this month, confirmed that, a little more than six years after it was announced at the 2001 Paris Air Show and two years after its first flight, the 7X had notched 173 orders as of June 30.

The manufacturer aims to sell around 500 copies of the 7X in the next 20 years. Current orders include the sale of the trijet to a large Chinese company and a $1.1 billion contract for 24 airplanes to fractional-ownership operator NetJets Europe. The latter deal marks Dassault’s largest-ever private jet sale, as well as the largest business jet order in European history and the second largest ever.

“This is the first time that a business jet has attracted such a high number of firm orders on the day of certification, making the 7X trijet the most successful launch ever in terms of dollar sales value. And orders continue to flow in,” Edelstenne said, adding, “This year promises to be another strong one.”

More than sixty 7Xs are in various stages of production and completion. Dassault has delivered only a handful to their owners since the trijet earned its certification papers, but the French manufacturer reports it remains on pace to hand over 15 by the end of the year, according to its original production estimate. Dassault recently announced a major expansion at the Little Rock center, including 116,000 additional square feet of production, design and warehouse space. The manufacturer also plans to double the size of its Little Rock service center.

Aircraft S/N 4, the first to be delivered, went to Dassault Aviation majority shareholder Serge Dassault. Customers will take delivery of a further 14 airplanes this year, after which Dassault’s “ambitious plan” is to deliver around 40 each year. The next available delivery position for a 7X ordered today is in the second quarter of 2012. Edelstenne agreed that the five-year delay is “exceptional,” but said that buyers appear willing to accept the wait.

One of the first customers has been so pleased with his new airplane, said Dassault’s senior v-p for civil aircraft, Olivier Villa, that he has ordered a second one.
Meanwhile, development of the 7X is ongoing. “Over the next six months, we will work on additional certifications,” Villa told NBAA Convention News. The first will cover operations on contaminated runways, followed by steep-approach approval. The goal is to include the 7X on the list of aircraft authorized into demanding urban-area airports such as London City. Finally, Dassault engineers will seek to increase the 7X’s certified crosswind limit.

The Falcon 7X features the first fly-by-wire flight control system on a purpose-built business jet. Dassault now refers to it as the airplane’s digital flight control system (DFCS). Fly-by-wire keeps the aircraft on the desired flightpath (a climbing turn, for example) after the pilot has released the sidestick. Digital control also offers greater precision and provides a smoother ride for passengers.

Powered by three 6,402-pound-thrust Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307A turbofans, the 7X can fly 5,950 nm nonstop–25 percent farther than the Falcon 900EX. A 7X carrying eight passengers can fly at 0.80 Mach with NBAA IFR reserves from New York to Dubai, Los Angeles to Berlin, Paris to Tokyo or London to Johannesburg.

Pilot training began on April 27 in Morristown, N.J., where CAE SimuFlite provides Falcon 7X training to four or five crews (two pilots each) at a time. Dassault estimates that, on average, four pilots have to be trained for each aircraft delivered. Falcon 7X pilot training is also available at CAE’s Burgess Hill, UK facility.

Before they fly in the simulator, pilots receive a four-hour lesson that focuses on the airplane’s fly-by-wire controls. During the lesson, the simulator does not move, but the pilot experiences the DFCS throughout its entire flight envelope. “He thus can see how the system behaves to protect the aircraft,” Jeannine Lafon, a Dassault training expert, told NBAA Convention News.

 “The Falcon 7X flies faster, farther and higher than any Falcon ever built,” Edelstenne boasted. The standard configuration features seating for 12, but the aircraft, priced at around $45 million, is certified to carry up to 19 with a crew of three. The widebody 7X is endowed with the latest pilot-friendly systems including fly-by-wire controls and the Honeywell Primus Epic-based EASy flight deck.