Dassault Aviation chairman and CEO Eric Trappier expressed frustration over news that Safran's Silvercrest, the engine for the Falcon 5X, is facing new delays because of a problem with acceleration of the high-pressure compressor at high altitudes. During an interview with AIN at NBAA 2017, he said Safran revealed the problem about a week before the show opened.
“We believed we were at the end of the program,” he told AIN. The final version of the engine was supposed to be delivered at the end of this year or early next year, but how much this problem might delay the 5X is not yet known. The reason for the frustration, he said, “is the market is keen for the 5X.” And during 50 hours of preliminary testing flown from July through October using non-production Silvercrest engines, “We are more than happy with the performance.”
Meanwhile, Dassault engineers continue developing the 5X, although it has been necessary to halt production work and put suppliers on hold. To achieve the goal of 2020 entry into service, the program would have to resume fairly soon, he said. “We need to know if we can commit to that.”
Dassault has revealed that work on the next Falcon program has begun, but the company hasn’t released any details about the jet’s configuration or performance. Trappier did say that all new Dassault programs will employ fly-by-wire flight controls.
About the new airplane, he said, “We are still trying to fly faster, higher and very silent. To reduce noise is not an easy job. There are no big breakthroughs, but it’s a challenge to increase performance.”
At the same time, he added, potential buyers of business aircraft are looking for lower costs. To facilitate efficiency, Dassault is deploying the Dassault Systèmes 3D Experience digital manufacturing platform, which ties together all aspects of the product life cycle, including design, manufacturing, operation and maintenance.
“To be sure,” Trappier said, “mastering the digital enterprise allows us to simulate the complete program. This tool was not available before, and this will give us an advance in designing a new aircraft. This is really a breakthrough for us and should also be for customers."
In practical terms, the new digital tools not only help with the design process but also with training technical personnel on how to assemble and maintain aircraft and for customers to specify materials and colors while moving around inside a virtual cabin. The latter speeds up the completions process.
Trappier related how he “visited” a proposed new factory using virtual reality tools and was able to visualize an upgrade to the facility without having to travel. He was able to see how the requested funds were to be spent and more quickly give his approval. “And they are discovering mistakes they may make way ahead of time,” he explained. “Factories will be more efficient.”
Further along the digital timeline, Dassault is researching artificial intelligence-based cockpit assistant technology. “I think younger pilots will accept artificial intelligence,” he said. “But no pilot wants a robot.”
While this technology is far in the future, Trappier believes that “the pilot job is going to change.” Nonetheless, pilots still need proper training and fundamental stick-and-rudder skills. “How do we make sure the pilot remains a pilot; a real pilot, not only a video game player? We need to be sure as a manufacturer that the pilot is in the loop.”
Business aviation still has a key role to play, Trappier said, because there remains a vital need for leaders and executives to visit facilities and customers all over the world. “To increase business you need to meet face to face,” he said. “You save a lot of hours when you fly a business jet.”