Paris Air Show

Dassault rethinks SMS; questions engine choice

 - June 14, 2009, 3:36 AM

Dassault Aviation CEO Charles Edelstenne on Friday made it clear that all design choices for its next Falcon business jet, a super-midsize aircraft codenamed SMS, have been reopened–including the engine. During a press conference at the company’s headquarters in Saint-Cloud, near Paris, Edelstenne also commented on the tricky economic situation, saying further layoffs might be decided by year-end.

For the SMS, Rolls-Royce had been selected two years ago to supply 10,000-pound-thrust-class RB282s. It now appears that even such a key decision is being questioned. “In our design process, Phase A is that of outlines and architecture. It was to end early this year. However, at this time, we saw we had not met our [economic and technical] goals. Therefore, I elected to prolong Phase A to the end of the year. Everything is open, including the choice of the engine. If you give yourself too many constraints, you cannot reach your targets,” Edelstenne said.
A Rolls-Royce spokesman later insisted his company has a strong business partnership with Dassault. “We continue to work with them on future program requirements,” he said. He added the RB282 concept is “sound” and Rolls-Royce is proud about the progress it made with it.

The ongoing economic downturn has affected the Falcon backlog but Dassault is planning to deliver about 80 aircraft in 2009. “This is an approximate figure,” Edelstenne pointed out. However, another Dassault executive told AIN that about 20 of these 80 were produced last year. Red tape delayed their deliveries.

During the first quarter only, the net Falcon order tally was minus 27. Late last month, AIN saw more than 30 Falcon 7Xs at various stages of final assembly at Dassault’s Bordeaux Mérignac factory. Evidently, this was a result of last-minute cancellations or delivery deferrals. “This bottleneck situation will be back to normal by year-end,” the CEO pledged. The ramp-down was initiated early this year.

Compared to other business aircraft manufacturers, there have been far fewer layoffs at Dassault. AIN has calculated that slightly over 230 jobs have been cut, including both completion and support activities in the U.S. According to Edelstenne, this number includes 40 retirements.

In France, there have been no layoffs yet. Action has been taken, nevertheless, such as a part-time work schedule from September to February next year. A feature in his firm, Edelstenne noted, is employee versatility. They can be moved easily from civil to military programs. “We will re-examine the situation by year-end,” Edelstenne added, hinting at harder decisions to come, though he expressed hope that the situation will begin to improve.

On the static display here in Paris is the in-development Falcon 900LX, equipped with mockups of winglets. Flight testing with the actual aerodynamic devices is due to start during the first quarter of next year, Edelstenne said. They will boost the 900EX’s range from 4,500 to an expected 4,800 nm. Certification and deliveries are planned to begin in the second half of next year.