Two months after launching the biggest, fastest and priciest Gulfstream ever, top executives for the U.S. business jet maker arrived at EBACE with a growing order book for their new G650 and sky-high optimism about the direction of the company overall.
In the last six months Gulfstream has scored several notable achievements, including certification of the first synthetic-vision system for a production business jet, approval of an improved enhanced-vision camera for its top models, the opening of a warranty center in Moscow, its first aircraft sale in China and testing of a fly-by-light flight control system it hopes to introduce one day.
But clearly the highlight for Gulfstream was the launch of the G650, an airplane that has spawned a market segment all its own. The G650’s range at Mach 0.85 reaches a globe-girding 7,000 nm, while its top speed of Mach 0.925 nudges, by about three knots, the Mach 0.92 Cessna Citation X from its title as the world’s fastest civil aircraft. Its price touches nearly $60 million per copy. All three characteristics represent new paradigms for a business jet.
Gulfstream president Joe Lombardo said at a press conference yesterday that he could not divulge how many letters of intent the company has received for the G650 thus far, describing it only as a “healthy number.” Separately, Abu Dhabi-based Prestige Jet announced a deal to buy five G650s, which the charter company described as the biggest single order for the airplane to date. The first 17 G650s built are being priced at $59.5 million apiece, a figure that does not include the costs for paint and interior.
First flight is scheduled to occur next year, with certification following in 2011 and entry into service in 2012. What is somewhat remarkable about the G650’s planned gestation time line, Lombardo noted, is the fact that a new G550 ordered today won’t be delivered to its buyer until 2013 due to the large backlog of orders. This helps explain Gulfstream’s decision to add the G650 to its model lineup rather than introduce it as a G550 replacement. It also underscores a rare trouble spot for Gulfstream (and all other business jet manufacturers), namely that production capacity has been stretched thin as the aviation supply chain faces mounting pressure to keep up with soaring demand.
There are a number of reasons why the market for business aircraft has become so superheated recently, one of the most clearly evident being a buying surge in markets outside North America. Lombardo noted that international sales across Gulfstream’s model line grew to a record 56 percent last year compared with sales in North America of 44 percent. Yet even with the trend toward increasing sales in places like Europe, Asia and South America, the number of airplanes Gulfstream sold to U.S. buyers in 2007 still represented an all-time high. “Emerging markets are important for us, but so too is North America,” he said.
Gulfstream received 257 orders for new airplanes last year and delivered 139. This year it expects to increase deliveries to 159.
A full-scale mockup of the G650 cabin is on display at Gulfstream’s booth (No. 7478). Although the airplane was formally launched in March, the company has been working on the design for a number of years, according to Pres Henne, Gulfstream senior vice president for programs, engineering and test. So far engineers have completed all wind-tunnel testing, built the first G650 nose structure, run the first Rolls-Royce BR725 engine and finished full-scale barrel testing of the main fuselage, he said. Additional engineering work has centered on developing the airplane’s fly-by-wire flight control system, shaping its composite winglets, and designing its windows, which Henne said are 16 percent larger than those on the G550.
While the spacious cabin and the airplane’s 16 trademark oval windows are what potential buyers will notice first about the G650, it’s the raw numbers that set the airplane apart. The 99,600-pound mtow G650 will have a balanced field length of less than 6,000 feet at maximum takeoff weight and a 3,000-foot landing distance at max landing weight. The new engines produce 4.6 percent more thrust than the G550’s BR715s, they are four decibels quieter and emit 21 percent less NOx (nitrogen oxide). Flying at Mach 0.85, the G650 can stay aloft for 1,000 nm beyond the G550. Push the throttles forward and the G650 can beat the G550 on a flight from New York to Tokyo by almost an hour. Fuel efficiency, meanwhile, is claimed to be the same as that of the much smaller Falcon 7X and far better than the Bombardier Global Express XRS for a 3,000-nm mission.