The industry’s fortunes have changed dramatically in the last three years, swinging wildly from the lowest of lows to almost unimaginable heights. For business aircraft makers, the current “cycle” likely will be remembered as one of the biggest roller-coaster rides in the industry’s history. Perhaps no company is more illustrative of the rapid turnaround than Dassault Falcon Jet.
At the low point, sales for the French manufacturer had slowed to a trickle as many would-be buyers put plans for new airplanes on hold. Some who found themselves in particularly dire financial predicaments reluctantly placed their coveted business jets on the pre-owned market–often for millions less than they originally paid for them.
It didn’t take long for the market to make a comeback, though, and last year proved to be a record setter for Dassault in terms of new orders booked. This year is shaping up to be another strong one, boosted by a large fleet order on the eve of the show for the Falcon 7X from fractional giant NetJets.
What’s next for Dassault? Falcon Jet president John Rosanvallon sat down with NBAA Convention News to talk about the company’s plans, as well as to reflect on its current successes.
We had a number of years where the financial picture was pretty grim. In fact, in 2003 Dassault had a total of 40 orders. Then, last year, you more than tripled that–you had 123 orders–which I believe was the best year you’ve ever had. What’s happened?
Unfortunately our industry over the last 30 years has been very cyclical. I don’t think–even though we have a fairly large family of products–that we had been at such a low point in the last 20 or 30 years. The rebound last year, as you say, was really spectacular, but the good part is that things still remain very firm in 2006.
What is the order book looking like for this year?
It’s too early to say if we’ll renew the type of figures we had last year. We had more than 50 firm orders at the midpoint of this year. As you know, we have also added since then 24 Falcon 7X orders with NetJets, so I think that we’re in good shape to have another very successful year.
How did that order come about? That’s a significant order for any aircraft.
It came after almost two years of discussions with our friends at NetJets. We’ve been partners now for almost 10 years. It started with a Falcon 2000 order early in 1997. Later, as Europe was becoming a bigger market for NetJets, the issue of finding the right ultra-long-range airplane came up and we began discussing the 7X with them.
What is the delivery schedule for the NetJets order?
You know we already have a big backlog of orders for the 7X. We’ll start deliveries to NetJets in 2008 and these deliveries will extend into 2014.
The 7X obviously is competing against well established aircraft in the [Bombardier] Global Express and [Gulfstream] G550. What does the market for ultra-long-range aircraft look like?
I think it has been a trend for at least 10 years that long-range to very-long-range aircraft are becoming a fixture in the business both in terms in units and, of course, in terms of value. The updated forecast by Honeywell shows that this segment of the market will remain one of the strongest if you take a 10-year outlook.
You’re showing the 7X for the first time with an interior. Tell us a little bit about what makes it a unique aircraft.
There are several features that are unique about the 7X. The first one, especially in today’s climate, is fuel efficiency. You have a 30- or 40-percent difference when compared with competitors. It’s also the most advanced airplane and, I think it’s well known now, it will be the first fly-by-wire business jet.
From a cabin standpoint, we are showing an interior for the first time, as you say. We are also putting a big focus on the cabin environmental controls and the improvements in noise and light–we have a lot of windows–so the cabin is a big focus of the 7X. The fact that you have six or seven additional feet of length makes the Falcon 7X a very nice airplane.
Up front we have the option of a full crew rest area, and 90 percent of our customers opt to have a three-lounge-type interior. We have also invested a lot of time and money reducing noise, and so I think it’s going to be a great cabin.
After the 7X program you have the 2000DX. How is that airplane coming along?
The 2000DX is a follow up to the 2000EX. We have started to sell our first airplanes so now the next available position is in the second half of 2008. I would not say it’s an easy program, but it’s very much a continuation of the 2000EX and so things are going very smoothly.
As you get close to finishing the 7X program there is a lot of speculation about what’s next for Dassault. Some people are saying that perhaps you’re going to be looking at smaller aircraft, and you yourself have talked about a super-midsize airplane. What is after the 7X?
We have continued to work primarily, as you say, on the super-midsize market, an airplane in the $20 million range. The Falcon 2000 now is well over 25 years old, so [a replacement] remains our focus. I think that when we are finished with the certification effort on the Falcon 7X we will devote even more resources to that new airplane and by then we will be able to be more specific.
Would it be appropriate, then, to say that Dassault is going to stick to the high-end aircraft rather than look toward smaller airplanes?
I think if you define the high end by being $20 million and above, then the answer is yes. We have no current plans to go much lower, and certainly no plans to go into the very light jet market or even the smaller midsize jets.
A perennial topic in the industry is the supersonic business jet. A number of companies have talked about doing it. You are now heavily into fly-by-wire, which is, of course, a prerequisite for developing a supersonic business jet. Are you looking at doing it?
Our focus now remains on technology. You may know we are working with a lot of European and Russian partners on an R&D program in Europe called HiSAC [High-speed Supersonic Aircraft], which focuses on basic technologies like noise, emissions, reduction of sonic boom. So we are very involved in that R&D phase, but it’s too early yet to speak of a program.
At Farnborough, Gulfstream announced that it is going to be putting synthetic vision into its top-model aircraft next year. Did that catch you by surprise? How long before we see the technology brought to the Falcon family?
I think that it’s the natural evolution of the current glass cockpit, as well as ESVS [combined infrared enhanced and synthetic vision], and we’ll be playing in that market basically as much as Gulfstream does.
A year ago you brought a $60 million lawsuit against Honeywell over delays with the EASy cockpit. The suit was settled for an undisclosed amount of money. What’s your relationship with Honeywell these days?
We have had a partnership with Honeywell since the early times of the Falcon 10. That was 35 years ago. In any partnership you’ll have tough times. We went through some tough times during the EASy development and now I think it’s behind us. We just had the last software update on the Falcon 2000EX, called Step 3. We have that a year early on the Falcon 900EX. We did settle our differences and now it’s behind us.
Apparently a Falcon 900 and a 2000 were spotted over Seattle testing winglets. Can you comment on that?
It seems like there may be some proof to that. You know that we have introduced the winglet to Dassault Falcon with the 7X. We are looking at what may be applicable to the current family of airplanes and I think that within a few months we will be ready to discuss that in more detail.