Analyst: Wave of New Bizjets Appear Waiting in Wings

 - September 17, 2019, 1:51 PM
This artist conception depicts a business jet with low acoustical impact developed under the European Clean Sky project. (Source: European Clean Sky)

The business jet market appears primed for several new aircraft unveilings, a key business aviation market analyst believes, suggesting that Gulfstream, Honda Aircraft, and others might “soon be taking the wraps off new planes.” Manufacturers have remained quiet about their plans, but new products are an important path for them to remain competitive and more efficient, said Brian Foley of Brian Foley Associates. He added these announcements could come as soon as next month at the NBAA annual convention.

Foley believes Gulfstream has a couple of significant motivators to moving forward with a successor of its ultra-long-range G650ER flagship. From an operational standpoint, Gulfstream “hasn’t historically allowed any competitor’s product to have a meaningful edge for long,” Foley said. But Bombardier’s new Global 7500 has a 7700-nm range, 200 nm more than the G650ER. Past practices suggest that Gulfstream would announce a new model to “steal back the range crown,” he surmised, adding that while “so few would ever benefit from an increase to this practically nonstop-to-anywhere capability...sometimes it’s more about branding than a usable improvement in mission capability.”

But to Foley, even more important is the fact that the G650ER manufacturing techniques are less efficient compared with that of Gulfstream’s newest models, the G500 and G600, which can be built in fewer hours and with fewer parts.

“By ditching the old G650ER and replacing it with a longer-range derivative of the new G600, the company stands to improve margins while optimizing commonality with G500/G600 parts and tooling,” he said.

Bombardier “doubled-down” on its business jet unit with the exit from a number of other business lines, he said. This suggests the business jet pipeline will remain active at the Montreal-headquartered manufacturer, Foley said, and expressed the belief that the company’s “middle-size” aircraft lines, the Challenger 350 and 650, “are both overdue for other than incremental improvements.”

Noting that its heritage stretches back to the 1970s, “the Challenger 650 is arguably most due for a makeover,” he said, suggesting an outright replacement would mark a bolder move.

At the light end of the market, Foley points to the recent 82,000-sq-ft facility expansion at Honda Aircraft, saying it “telegraphs a new announcement forthcoming” particularly since Honda Aircraft right now is a one-product company. “Manufacturers need to have a family of aircraft to have a meaningful market presence and step-up products for their existing customers.”

Further, he said, Honda has been seeking engineers with expertise in wing, fuselage, and systems design—“all indicative of an active in-house Skunkworks.”

After the experience involving the cancellation of the Falcon 5X, Foley anticipates that new products from Dassault will be derived from the 6X wing and replace the older generation Falcon 900 and 2000 lines. “As with Gulfstream, having designs based on a modern airframe lowers labor time, parts cost, and provides tooling commonality.”

Foley is less optimistic about a near-term announcement from Embraer, given recent updates to the Legacy 450 and 500 with the Praetor line. Embraer is still settling from the sales of its majority stake of the commercial airliner division to Boeing, he added, saying this “would seemingly keep any business jet announcements at bay for now.”

As for Textron Aviation, Foley suggests the Wichita manufacturer “has its hands full” with the Citation Longitude, SkyCourier, and Denali. “If there were to be pending new announcements, it could be enhancements to the decade-old Citation CJ4 and XLS+: call them the CJ4+ and XLS++.”