The business jet market has remained largely static over the past six months, according to Dassault Aviation chairman and CEO Eric Trappier. Speaking Sunday at the company’s press conference, he gave an assessment similar to the one he gave at NBAA’s annual convention and exhibition last year in Orlando. “The situation remains pretty much unchanged, with intense price cutting, depressed pre-owned aircraft prices, and weak demand across much of the market.”
Among the major business jet manufacturers, Dassault (Booth Z90) has a unique situation, with a military aircraft division to provide diversification. “We can rely on sales of our Rafale fighter to help compensate for sluggish business jet sales,” explained Trappier, who pointed to several recent orders for the aircraft.
Yet all is not gloom on the business jet front for the French airframer. “We are seeing signs of improvement in a few areas such as northern Europe, the Russian zone and China,” Trappier told the audience. “We are also seeing renewed activity in the U.S., in the aftermath of the presidential election, especially for the Falcon 2000 line and the Falcon 900LX.” He believes that growth in the U.S. market is facing headwinds due to uncertainty over fiscal reform, while doubt swirling around future U.S. policy is also impacting Mexico, another major business aircraft market. Further south, Brazil continues to struggle due to its continuing governmental crisis.
Despite these concerns, the company is seeing stronger demand in the secondhand market. “This should start impacting pre-owned aircraft pricing, and consequently new aircraft sales,” said Trappier, adding, "we remain fully confident in the future of the industry and in the future of our civil aircraft business."
With regard to Dassault's latest project, the large-cabin 5X, Trappier said that “aircraft development continues to move forward in accord with the revised Silvercrest [engine] development schedule, which was put in place to resolve the technical issues that Safran has identified. We expect certifiable engines to be available by year-end in order to start the flight test program shortly thereafter.”
Over the past year, the company has shifted some design, development and product support activity to Dassault's Bordeaux-Mérignac final assembly facility, and the company intends to further specialize its different production sites, even as it begins work on the next aircraft development program. Trappier remained non-committal about what market segment the new aircraft would occupy. “We hope to be in a position to freeze the specifications and decide on the definition of this new model by year’s end,” he said.
Here at EBACE the company is highlighting a new interior concept for its flagship 8X, which entered service late last year and is described by the company as “the quietest executive jet on the market.” The package features an entry lounge that can convert to a certified crew rest for long-haul flights. Also included is Honeywell's high-speed JetWave Ka-band Satcom, the FalconEye head-up display and EVS camera, dual electronic flight bags with the latest FalconSphere II software suite, and electronic window shades.
The FalconEye system, which combines both synthetic and enhanced vision system imagery in the same view, is now available across the airframer’s entire model line-up and, according to Trappier, it is requested as an option by nearly all 8X customers.
Production of the trijet, which recently completed a demonstration flight between Singapore and London–a distance of 6,300 nm in approximately 14 hours–continues to ramp up. Olivier Villa, the manufacturer’s senior vice president for civil aircraft, noted that airframe number 40 has joined the assembly line at Mérignac, while the 28th 8X is currently in the specially-built completions hangar at Dassault’s Little Rock, Arkansas, facility.
The 8X was recently approved for operations at London City Airport. “We have even developed new, specific flight-control software to make sure that this steep approach was as smooth and as comfortable as possible for the passengers,” said Villa. The aircraft carries authorization from EASA, FAA, the UAE, Brazil and India, while approvals from China and Russia are pending.
On the product support side, the plans are to construct a new worldwide parts warehouse near Paris’s Charles DeGaulle Airport. The 16,500-sq-m (180,000-sq-ft) structure is expected to be completed by the middle of 2018. Following the recent opening of a spare parts center in Moscow, and the naming of Aero Dienst Vienna and Hawker Pacific Malaysia as authorized Falcon support providers, the company’s global support network consists of 15 parts depots, 51 support centers and more than 100 field representatives to serve the company’s global fleet, which now totals more than 2,100 aircraft.
Introduced two years ago, the company’s FalconResponse program, which operates a pair of Falcon 900s (one based at Teterboro Airport, the other in Paris) has flown more than 300 missions, transporting urgently-needed parts and technicians. The aircraft can also be used by customers for alternate lift, with more than 40 percent of the missions providing that option.