Elusive capital supply starves some gestational programs into inactivity

 - December 28, 2010, 7:16 AM

For a year marked by a lackluster recovery in flight activity, tepid used aircraft sales and continued slow sales of new light and midsize jets, there was a surprising amount of activity in new aircraft programs. At last year’s NBAA convention, Bombardier, Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft all announced new aircraft programs (although most are derivatives of existing models) and hints of more to come from other OEMs appear to be more fact than rumor.

Dassault’s long-anticipated SMS took one step closer to becoming official with the announcement by Canadian landing-gear manufacturer Héroux-Devtek that it has been selected by Dassault for an upcoming business jet program. At MEBA last month, Dassault confirmed that it hopes to certify the SMS in 2016.
Bombardier made a big splash at the NBAA show with two new additions to the Global stable, the 7000 and 8000. These two new jets offer an interesting new paradigm, a pair priced exactly the same ($65 million in 2010 $) but with different range and fuselage size options. The Global 8000 is the longer-range version at 7,900 nm and with the shorter cabin. The Global 7000 will fly 7,300 nm and offers a nine-foot-longer cabin. Both share the same GE TechX engines and Rockwell Collins-based Global Vision avionics.

Cessna’s stretched Citation X, the Citation Ten, adds performance improvements with upgraded Rolls-Royce AE3007 engines, more room in the cabin and Garmin G5000 avionics. While intended to be slightly faster than the X (and, more important, the Gulfstream G650), the Ten delivers a long-overdue refresh to the X platform; like Bombardier’s Global Express, the X is one of the few new jets still being delivered with CRT-based avionics displays.

Hawker Beechcraft continues to calibrate its products in response to customer feedback. The King Air 250, a model that had been expected for some time, was launched at the NBAA show and replaces the 200GT. New Hartzell composite propellers, BLR winglets and Raisbeck ram air recovery system boost short-field, high-and-hot performance and also signal that Hawker Beechcraft leadership has finally embraced outside engineering talent to help drive product improvements.
The Hawker 200 is basically what was going to be the Premier II upgrade but renamed to fit the branding currently in vogue. Entry into service is expected late next year, and the jet features new Williams International FJ44-3AP engines and winglets delivering a significant performance boost.

The Hawker 450 program remains in a sort of limbo now that Hawker Beechcraft has suspended production of the Hawker 400. But the 400XPR retrofit program with Williams International FJ44-4A-32 engines signals that the 450 may yet come back someday as a much-improved and refreshed program.

The economic downturn has made funding of new programs extremely elusive, and Comp Air’s plans to certify single-engine turboprops are one of the casualties. It appears that for new aircraft programs, established manufacturers have significant advantages. Cessna, for example, is developing a six-seat single-engine turboprop, but the program has not formally launched.

Gippsland’s Airvan GA10 looks likely to make it to the marketplace, now that the company is owned by Mahindra, a strong aerospace conglomerate based in India. The refreshed former Nomad should also make it to market as the Airvan GA18.

The debate about the market for single-engine jets is starting to get stale, right about the time when the industry had expected deliveries to begin. Cirrus is still tweaking the design of the SF50 Vision but can’t move forward until it secures more funding (or sales of its piston singles skyrocket). Piper has undergone extreme management changes last year and now has a new team at the helm, led by Randy Groom, but questions remain as to Piper owner Imprimis’s willingness to put up the tens of millions of dollars needed to see the PiperJet Altaire through to certification and production. Diamond Aircraft is still scheduled to hit the market first, with certification of the D-Jet planned at the end of this year, but the company has been quiet of late regarding the D-Jet program. And this makes one wonder if further delays are inevitable.

All of these single-engine jet programs, we’re told, have hundreds of orders backing them up, but it appears that these manufacturers have found that the cost of certifying a single-engine jet is far higher than initially expected. Perhaps, too, the market will be in a better mood to pay for actual delivery later rather than sooner, so the timing may yet work out.

Another casualty of the economy is Spectrum Aeronautical. Most personnel involved with the Independence S.33 and Freedom S.40 jet programs have been laid off, although the company maintains that a core team continues to work on the design.
The slowdown of the Spectrum program leaves Honda’s HondaJet as the sole customer for the GE-Honda HF120 engine. And the HondaJet program, although delayed, remains viable and on track for first delivery in the first quarter of 2012.