Dassault Falcon Jet’s Little Rock, Arkansas completion center is ramping up its capacity to meet demand for Dassault’s newly certified Falcon 7X, while continuing to fulfill commitment with regard to the Falcon 900EX, 900DX and 2000EX.
The French airframer’s U.S. completion center sprawls across some 75 acres at Little Rock National Airport. Hangars, shops and other spaces total 700,000 sq ft, where approximately 2,000 employees do cabin finish work on aircraft that have been assembled in France and flown green to Little Rock.
Much of the growth has come in the past few years, following Dassault’s decision to complete all Falcon 7X interiors at Little Rock. In fact, four hangars totaling 99,000 sq ft are set aside solely for 7X completions. The investment is now paying off.
Dassault Falcon Jet president and CEO John Rosanvallon noted that in 2003, while the industry was mired in the pit of a recession, Dassault sold just 40 airplanes. Last year, as the economic recovery gathered momentum, Dassault saw that number jump to 158. And in the next 12 to 18 months, Rosanvallon added, the company anticipates selling 120 airplanes.
As of mid-May, the Little Rock facility had taken in its seventh 7X and was expecting to deliver 10 aircraft by the end of the year. Once the completion process matures, said Robert Smith, senior vice president of operations at Little Rock, Dassault expects to be capable of delivering 20 airplanes a month, including 900EXs, 900DXs and 2000EXs.
From the Little Rock center, Dassault is forecasting delivery of 70 aircraft this year and 95 next year. The company also has an agreement with Jet Aviation in Basel, Switzerland, to serve as a sub-contractor for lesser numbers of interior completions, estimated at about 20 Falcons a year.
Currently, the completion center is working two shifts in production, three shifts in the paint shop and three shifts in the warehouse. As the ramp-up continues, Dassault will hire 200 more employees, many of them the product of programs at various state technical schools and universities the company supports. Dassault takes pride in the fact that every Falcon business jet delivered has a cabin individualized for a particular customer. “Our customers are not interested in a cookie-cutter approach to their cabins,” said Christian Sasso, the center’s general manager. Across the industry, he said, customers are saying the same thing: “You used to give me ‘haute couture,’ and now you are giving me ‘ready-to-wear,’ and at the same price.”
Dassault, he explained, has taken a life-cycle management approach in designing its airplanes, and this includes interior completion. And so while the company tries to “industrialize” and establish a commonality in the interest of reducing costs, it is not at the expense of “a hand-crafted, highly individualized cabin.”
The key is product lifecycle management, which brings together the product, tooling and production line around a single database. It integrates various skill areas, allowing software packages to be applied to a “design-to-build” concept.
But the path from design to build has not been without challenges. Perhaps the greatest is data management, explained Smith. Using Catia V5 three-dimensional software produced by Dassault Systemes, interior designers and engineers build computer models of everything that goes into a Falcon interior, from individual screws to galleys. In the completion process for the 7X, as many as 15,000 computer models may be produced.
Catia Virtual, said Paresh Buch, the company’s vice president of engineering, does not merely represent a computer-generated picture. “It is real Catia data using real engineering data.”
The Falcon 7X was the first Dassault aircraft program in which the product lifecycle management process was fully employed, and according to Smith, it will be fully integrated in completion of the Falcon 900EX as well by year-end.
In the past, the Little Rock center has retained close control of the completion process, doing very little outsourcing, even for metal plating. But with pressure building to remain on schedule, the company has turned to outside suppliers for a number of components, including wire bundling, raw cabinetry, in some cases the application of wood veneers and, on occasion, exotic metal plating. At the same time, said Smith, Dassault has tried to keep outsourcing at a local level, and has sought to entice other vendors to move to an industrial park being built near the airport.
Meanwhile, Dassault is keeping up with the latest technology and planning improvements. “Customers want technology,” said Smith, “and you can count on [a demand for] satcom, high-speed Internet access including wireless local area network and the latest in entertainment products. We’re also working on systems to permit in-flight use of personal cellphones and personal data accessories such as the Blackberry.”