As OEM’s display their flagship ultra-long-range, purpose-built business jets—specifically Bombardier’s Global 7500, Gulfstream's G650ER, and Dassault’s Falcon 8X—this week at EBACE 2019, speculation stoked by the manufacturers themselves abounds on what comes next.
When Gulfstream’s flagship G650 entered service in December 2012, the Savannah airframer decisively seized the mantle of largest dedicated business jet. That was reinforced when the 7,500-nm-range G650ER variant joined its line up two years later. It held that title until December, when Bombardier delivered the first new top end of its Global family, the four-zone Global 7500. “Gulfstream opened the ultra-long-range segment in general with the G650 but, yes, Bombardier is the leader in the true four-zone cabin environment,” said Chad Anderson, president of aircraft brokerage Jetcraft.
In November, when asked about how his company would respond to the pending arrival of its new competition, Gulfstream president Mark Burns stated, “Gulfstream has no intention to relinquish control of the market we created with the G650/G650ER.”
But on Monday during the company’s press conference at EBACE, he was slightly more circumspect. “The good thing about the strength that we have and the commitment that our parent [General Dynamics] has is we are able to invest in the future,” he responded to a question from AIN regarding any follow-on models. “The airplanes that we have now I believe make us very competitive. [The] G500, G600, G650 give us a very competitive large-cabin base to build from, but we certainly want to think about the future as well. Will there be airplanes after the G500 and G600? Yes.”
Yet, the industry is rife with speculation that the Savannah airframer (Booth T139, SD 406) will soon be moving to regain the largest business jet crown from its Canadian counterpart. “I think its perfectly logical that Gulfstream is going to answer the 7500 with its own true four-zone cabin answer to the 7500 because the worldwide market intelligence suggests that the design and mission of our clients will demand it furthermore,” Anderson told AIN. “We do think there is space in that segment, and I think you will hear an announcement shortly.”
Others such as veteran industry analyst Rolland Vincent, president of Rolland Vincent Associates, suspects the airframer could be readying another surprise as it did with the simultaneous announcement and rollout of the G500 back in 2014. “We think they’ve already made engine selection, we think the thing is being built actually,” Vincent told AIN this week at EBACE. He added that he believes the mystery twinjet informally referred to by the industry as the “G700” will be a direct competitor to the 7500.
In a recent report, Citi Aerospace & Defense North America speculated that a potential G650 derivative could have a larger fuselage, new engines, an updated cockpit, and possibly a new wing, to avoid cannibalizing the current G650 market. But taking the path of a derivative would also ensure a quick path to service entry, it explained.
Dassault (Booth Z89, SD103) has also said its next business jet is under development. Heading off inquiries about the mystery ship at the top of his EBACE media briefing, Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier said he wouldn’t answer questions about the program. AIN’s subsequent requests at the Geneva event for guidance on when the company would provide an update or other information about the program received no response before going to press.
As part of the EU's Clean Sky initiative, the French airframer has been conducting R&D work toward a more electric Falcon using fewer hydraulics and less engine bleed air that it previously said could enter service in the 2020 to 2025 time frame. But its engineers have noted reliability of electric systems pose a challenge, with the needed one failure per 10,000 flight hours being somewhere between 10 and 100 times better than current technology allows.
“We call the new Falcon model the 9X,” Vincent said. “We think it’s a big twin, not a three-engine airplane, and it’s going to use the 6X cross-section. It will compete right at the top of the market against the Global 7500 and against the new Gulfstream.”
Said Anderson, “It has to be Dassault’s answer to both Gulfstream and Bombardier in that true, ultra-long-range segment,” speculating that its introduction “is probably within 18 to 24 months.”
Bombardier (Booth Z124, SD400) was almost as mum about its already introduced, but undefined Global 8000, its planned longer-range sibling of the 7500. The Canadian OEM declined to provide any update this week at EBACE, stating, “We continue to focus on the Global 7500 ramp up,” and insisting the model remains “a program of record.”
The two new Global platforms were announced simultaneously in October 2010, with the then-Global 7000 slated to be the first to enter service. Its Global 8000 was to offer a 7,900-nm range, achieved by shortening the cabin almost eight feet, eliminating the four-zone cabin that was a primary selling point for the 7000.
However, a shortened airframe would mean that even providing an adequate rest area for additional crewmembers required for full-range missions would be challenging. With the rebranding from Global 7000 to the 7500, and its concomitant range increase to 7,700 nm, announced at last year’s EBACE, the Model 8000 as originally envisioned would seem even more tenuous.
In late 2017, Bombardier Business Aircraft president David Coleal acknowledged orders for the longer-range version accounted for “a very, very small percentage of our backlog,” saying the OEM would “determine the right schedule for the 8000” likely following its sibling’s entry into service.
“I don’t think the 8000 is a real program,” said Vincent. “There is no one I’ve heard that is looking to buy it. I think the market is enamored with the 7500, so the best way they can go forward is to just get the [production] rates up on the 7500 and don’t confuse the market by offering something else again. They’ve got a hell of an airplane there—just sell that one.”
But according to reports from the Global 8000 design team this year, work is continuing on the program. And in its current five-year business aviation market forecast, Jetcraft still lists the Global 8000 as “in development.”
Industry experts believe there will be room at the top of the mountain for whoever is willing and capable to climb it. “In our forecast, you will see specifically that we talked to the long range and ultra long range being the weather vane of our market going forward,” explained Anderson. “If you look at the number of units we’re forecasting, we’re going to be relatively level across the manufacturers, we’re not forecasting a large increase of new product unit count, but the growth of our industry over the next five years is going to be heavily driven in terms of new deliveries on that large-cabin and ultra-long-range segment.”
At some point in the battle for range supremacy, likely soon, such jets will be capable of traveling half-way around the earth, and the need for reaching longer distances will cease. Supersonic long-range business jets, anyone?