OEMs focus on derivatives, not new models

 - October 24, 2006, 11:56 AM

While the business aviation industry remains healthy and forecasts predict continued growth, the established OEMs announced only incremental product upgrades at the NBAA Convention last month. In all, manufacturers unveiled six derivative business airplanes: the Airbus A318 Elite; Bombardier Challenger 605 and Learjet 60XR; Cessna Encore+; Dassault Falcon 2000DX; and Raytheon Hawker 850XP. And at the Dubai Air Show late last month, Boeing Business Jets launched the BBJ3, a derivative of the in-development 737-900 airliner.

Airbus A318 Elite

Airbus is introducing the A318 Elite as its “entry-level” executive aircraft to compete with the Gulfstream G450, Bombardier Global 5000 and Dassault Falcon 900EX. However, the twinjet bizliner has about 5,300 cu ft of cabin volume, more than twice that of any of those competitors.

Built on the same platform as the A319 Airbus Corporate Jetliner, the smaller Elite is aimed at the medium-range market for flights of up to 4,000 nm, such as from New York to London or from Europe to some Asian and Middle East destinations. The bizliner will be certified for Category IIIB operations and will feature the Thales head-up display with an enhanced-vision system. First delivery of an A318 Elite–to an undisclosed customer in Florida–is expected in May.

Customers will have a choice of two engines–the CFM56-5B (currently in use on the A320 and A321) or the Pratt & Whitney PW2000 (designed for the Boeing 757). Airbus has not yet disclosed the price of the Elite, but it said that operating costs would be in the $2,500- to $3,000-per-hour range. Airbus and Lufthansa Technik are working to develop “total care packages” for A318 Elite customers.

Bombardier Challenger 605

From the outside, the Challenger 605 is virtually identical to the Challenger 604, the model it replaces. But on the inside there are major changes–from the avionics upgrade to an aft lavatory redesign.

In the flight deck, the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 4 gives way to a state-of-the-art Pro Line 21 avionics suite with four 10- by 12-inch LCD screens. Another new cockpit feature is a side-console touchscreen that can display Jeppesen e-charts and Airshow information and provide a backup controller for cabin lighting, telecommunication and water systems control and cabin entertainment.

The 605’s cabin offers passengers a much cleaner look, in addition to larger windows set 2.5 inches higher in the fuselage for a wider viewing angle. Adding further to the cabin environment is LED upwash/downwash lighting and a cabin entertainment system based on Collins’s Airshow 21.

Despite the interior changes, there is little change in the aircraft’s weight or performance. However, Bombardier expects that the upgrades will improve dispatch reliability, which the company claims is already at 99.8 percent.

Bombardier Learjet 60XR

The Learjet 60XR represents a considerable improvement in avionics over the Learjet 60, with a four-screen Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 system replacing the Pro Line 4. The avionics upgrade saves about 60 pounds, but a source at Bombardier said changes in the cabin might “gobble that up.”

The 60XR’s upgraded cabin comes in four basic configurations, from a six-passenger executive layout to an eight-passenger high-density floorplan. Other improve- ments include LED upwash/downwash cabin lighting and moving the galley from its location across from the cabin door to one that is adjacent to the door. The new cabin design also includes a window in the lav, and the larger vanity cabinet offers not only storage but also a convenient location for audio/video equipment.

Cessna Encore+

While the Encore+’s pair of FADEC-equipped Pratt & Whitney Canada PW535Bs won’t offer any additional thrust over the Encore’s PW535As, the updated powerplants will be gentler on the engine’s internal components, thereby increasing aircraft reliability. The most dramatic change on the $8.095 million Encore+ will be the shift from its predecessor’s Honeywell Primus 1000 avionics to the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 system.

Topping off the improvements is a 200-pound payload increase and some interior upgrades. First flight of the Encore+ is scheduled for next month, with FAA approval planned for the third quarter next year. Two aircraft will participate in the certification program.

Dassault Falcon 2000DX

Just as the Falcon 900DX replaced the 900C, the 2000DX will replace the 2000. Based on the 2000EX, which has a range of 3,800 nm, the Falcon 2000DX–with its 3,250-nm range (250 nm more than the Falcon 2000)–is targeted at customers who operate shorter-range trips but want the comfort and performance of a large-cabin airplane.

Among its capabilities, the 2000DX will be able to climb directly to 41,000 feet in 17 minutes. It will also feature an EASy cockpit. First flight is planned for June 2007, and certification and first deliveries are expected by the end of that year.

Raytheon Hawker 850XP

The midsize Hawker 850XP, a $13.65 million (2006 dollars) derivative of the $13.45 million (2005 dollars) 800XPi, gets a speed and range boost thanks to the addition of winglets, which increase wingspan by 3.5 feet. Raytheon said the winglets are of composite construction with an aluminum leading edge and built-in LED position and strobe lights.

Raytheon has been flying a Hawker 850XP from Beech Field in Wichita since the summer, and test flights have demonstrated that the winglets increase range by 4 percent. With four passengers, the 850XP has an NBAA IFR range of 2,642 nm compared with the 800XPi’s 2,540-nm range; with six passengers the range is 2,598 nm, up from 2,495 nm.

At FL390 the 850XP’s cruise speed clocks in at 437 knots, and at FL410 it is 424 knots. This compares with the 800XPi at 434 knots and 419 knots, respectively.

In the flight deck, the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics now have integrated flight information system capabilities, allowing operators to upgrade to a paperless cockpit. In addition, a recurring 300-hour inspection will be lengthened to 600 hours on the new model. Certification of the Hawker 850XP is expected by year-end, with first deliveries slated to begin next month.

BBJ3

Boeing launched the largest member of the Boeing Business Jet line at the Dubai Air Show last month. Based on the 737-900ER, the $62.5 million BBJ3 would have a max range, with five auxiliary fuel tanks, of 4,765 nm. Its 1,120 sq ft of floor area is 35 percent more than that of the BBJ and 11 percent larger than that of the BBJ2.

First flight of the next-generation 737-900ER is scheduled for August, and deliveries of the airliner version are not expected before early 2007. The first BBJ3 delivery, said a Boeing source, will depend on when the first order is received, and when a slot can be made available on the production line.

The BBJ3’s formal announcement at the Dubai Air Show was no accident, since 26 percent of the worldwide fleet of 83 BBJs are based in the Middle East, and the majority of BBJ2s sold are going to Middle Eastern customers.