Dassault Prepares For Economic Upswing
Dassault Falcon is taking advantage of the current business jet production lull to implement more efficient production procedures, unveil new modularized interiors, continue work on its SMS new jet program and perhaps forge alliances with other OEMs as a way to expand its market footprint into new aircraft categories.
Like most other business jet OEMs, the delivery numbers for Dassault year-to-date have been less than robust. Measured in dollars for the first six months of 2011 they were down 44 percent from the same period in 2010, representing an aggregate value of $846.5 million this year versus $1.854 billion a year ago. The scorecard: 19 aircraft delivered through June versus 45 for the first six months of 2010. On a positive note, for the first half of the year the company booked 22 net new (minus cancellation) Falcon orders.
Across all of Dassault, operating income declined by 62 percent for the first half of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010. However, the OEM still has plenty of cash to fund new programs, almost €3 billion at the end of June, even as the company finds itself being hit by both the impact of the weakened global economy and the U.S. dollar’s continued slide against the euro.
In his mid-year financial report, Dassault Aviation chairman Charles Edelstenne noted this “dollar weakness” that “penalizes our production costs in France” and said that across America and Europe “too many uncertainties remain before growth earnings” translate into new investments. He also noted a global market shift. “China is becoming our first market since the beginning of the year.” However, overall, he said, the global business jet market is “recovering slowly.” But that is not stopping some customers from deferring deliveries, which were also negatively impacted by the temporary grounding of the Falcon 7X fleet following a runaway pitch trim incident on an aircraft approaching Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on May 25.
Dassault identified the problem with a certain lot of horizontal stabilizer electronic control units and got replacement parts to the impacted aircraft. While EASA reauthorized flight for the entire 7X fleet on July 7, its flight envelope was limited to Mach 0.85 Mmo instead of 0.9 until a software modification was implemented in September.
Celebrates Falcon 2000S
That bit of turbulence aside, Dassault has reason to celebrate some positive developments, including EASA and FAA certification of the new Falcon 900EX EASy II cockpit and the launch of the Falcon 2000S program this year at the EBACE show.
The EASy II cockpit is built around the Honeywell Primus Epic system and includes SmartView synthetic vision, RNP-AR and satellite-based augmentation system LPV approach capability, SmartRunway, automatic descent mode, ADS-B OUT, XM WX and dual Jeppesen charts display.
Slated for deliveries beginning in 2013, the Falcon 2000S is Dassault’s value-added entry into the super-midsize market, with a $25 million aircraft that has shorter range (3,350 nm) and standardized interiors compared to the $32.1 million, 4,000-nm Falcon 2000LX. Dassault claims the 2000S “is a large-cabin aircraft with fuel economy and operating costs that are much less than smaller aircraft in the mid-sized business jet category.”
However, the 2000S is more than just a shorter-legged 2000LX. The aircraft can access airports heretofore not available to 2000s thanks to its lighter weight and the addition of new inboard wing slats that allow it to fly steeper approaches into shorter runways. The slats, combined with standard autobrake, cut the approach speed to 108 knots. High/hot and time-to-climb performance also improves. The updated Pratt & Whitney Canada PW308C engines (7,000 pounds of thrust each), equipped with new Talon II combustors, cut emissions by up to 40 percent. Combined with winglets, this helps the 2000S burn “10 percent less fuel than aircraft that are 20 percent smaller,” according to Dassault.
While the 2000S’s 10-passenger interior was standardized into three distinct color/fabric/material “harmonies” and one seating configuration, Dassault took care not to scrimp on functionality. The Falcon Cabin HD cabin management system, based on the Rockwell Collins Venue, delivers all the bells and whistles including Blu-ray, wide-screen monitors and links to Iridium satcom. The Cabin HD system can be commanded via wireless mobile devices. The cockpit gets new trim and paint and the EASy II avionics system.
Dassault worked with BMW Group DesignworksUSA to develop the harmonies. The two companies previously worked together to develop award-winning optional interiors for the 7X, which became available this year. The schemes developed for the 2000S use the same “design language” while “keeping the same elevated, premium look and feel of a Falcon,” according to Designworks executives. But there are differences they said, including the use of different veneer styles and textile and leather combinations that emphasize “lightness and spatial definition” and create “a more open, room-like feel.” A 2000S interior has been installed in a 2000LX and that aircraft on display at this year’s NBAA show.
Standardizing the 2000S is just one way Dassault is taking costs out of the interior. The company is implementing new design, manufacturing and assembly processes at its Little Rock completion center, with the goal of reducing the amount of time it takes to finish new aircraft flown over from France. New lean processes include establishing an assembly line for interior components and bringing new digital design tools on line. These methods eventually will be applied to all Dassault aircraft, including those under development.
This includes the SMS twinjet that is expected to be powered by the new Snecma Silvercrest engine and employ fly-by-wire controls. Relatively little is known about the program so far, but approximately 1,000 Dassault and contractor employees are working on the project, which is expected to fall into a size category between super-midsize and large jets and come to market near 2016.
Piaggio Aero, now jointly owned by Ferrari family members–Mubadala and India’s Tata Group–also is thought to be in discussions with several OEMs, including Dassault, on a co-development deal for the Piaggio 1XX jet. Co-development deals could make sense for Dassault as a way to expand into nontraditional business jet market segments.