The late and rotund actor and poet Victor Buono, whom you recall as King Tut from the long-ago Batman television series, once opined, “Being thin is where it’s been, but being fat is where it’s at.” When it comes to new business jets this is indeed the marketing mantra that OEMs pray will ring the register. The svelte fuselages spawned from the minds of Bill Lear and Ed Swearingen are now the stuff of disdain, flying archeological curiosities left over from the bygone era of the average 170-pound American male of the 1960s.
What today’s bizjet customers want are wider seats adjoining ever wider aisles in a utopia of super-size fuselages. Gulfstream and Dassault Falcon have already set the new standard of galloping girth with the 102-inch cabin cross-section on the new G650ER and 5X twinjets, respectively, for purpose-built bizjets. Of course if you want wider than that there are always the bizliner variants from Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, Sukhoi and likely soon from Bombardier and Mitsubishi.
Inner space is key even farther downstream, with OEMs battling keenly to show that even the smallest of aircraft are “space craft.” From the HondaJet to the new Cessna Citation Latitude, OEMs are emphasizing cabin comforts like never before, regardless of aircraft size category. Over the summer I visited One Aviation’s Eclipse maintenance facility at Chicago Executive Airport where the virtues of that aircraft’s comparatively Lilliputian cabin space were touted–once you removed two of its six seats. Fractional provider Flexjet stresses the comfort of its new Learjet 75s, which also subtract two cabin seats from the standard configuration. With 87 percent of private jet dollars forecast to be spent on large and super-large jets over the next decade the race to the top is on; the old theory that you develop customers over time by moving them “up the food chain” into progressively larger and larger aircraft seems less valid in today’s global economy. Increasingly a customer’s first jet is a big one. And there is no shortage of choices. But will this race to the top create an eventual glut of too many consumer options that the market simply cannot sustain? Or to channel Buono, the belt of today’s crop of new jets is definitely not svelte. But with this new offering of widebodies there is more to like than just the size.
The trend toward attention to total lifecycle costs continues to evolve, with a new generation of engines with either no overhaul requirement or suggested intervals that are so long as to be essentially irrelevant, just like their on-condition airline cousins. These engines, such as the GE Passport and the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW800, feature lower specific fuel consumption and emissions as well. The amount of maintenance data aircraft are and will be able to transmit in real time is on the rise, too, thanks to new Ka-band satellite technology. The flexibility of hourly maintenance plans available from aircraft OEMs also seems to be getting better every day, covering more items and for longer durations as components become more reliable. Digital fly-by-wire flight control technology and cockpit sidesticks are migrating down to midsize aircraft such as the Embraer Legacy 450 and 500 and partially in the Cessna Citation Longitude. Touchscreens have eliminated most of the switchology in new cockpit designs.
Cabin technology is also making strides. You can now order a steam shower in the Falcon 8X and Lufthansa Technik offers an aftermarket galley dishwasher. The aforementioned Ka-band satellites open up a whole new frontier of speed and connectivity for in-flight information and entertainment with wider coverage areas. Cabin carpeting can be embedded with a light show. Seats on the upcoming Bombardier Global Expresses will not only recline; they will literally rock you all night long. Granted there is something incongruous about sitting in a rocking chair attached to a floor that moves at 600 mph–and maybe faster. Supersonic bizjets seem to be nudging ever closer to reality.
So here is the current crop of new business jets as the sun sets on 2015.