While many airlines continue their struggle to reach an operational equilibrium after the horrendous disruption inflicted on them by the Covid pandemic, business aviation generally has enjoyed a brighter period with rising demand for alternatives to scheduled services. Still, private jet manufacturers and operators also face headwinds in the shape of shortages of skilled staff, rising costs (notably fuel), and general economic uncertainty, in part resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
None of those factors cast much of a cloud over May’s European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition in Geneva, which for many in the industry marked the first high-profile international gathering since Covid. The event provided the first glimpse at a pair of new long-range aircraft and also the launch of another new intercontinental model.
Gulfstream’s new G700 and the Dassault Falcon 6X both turned heads on the EBACE static display line. Their Canadian rival Bombardier announced plans to bring a new Global 8000 model to market in 2025. It promises even more range than the current Global 7500 flagship, offering an 8,000 nm reach and faster speeds of up to Mach 0.94.
According to Gulfstream, the G700 will enter service in the fourth quarter, but new FAA certification mandates requiring enhanced procedures for validating software could push the schedule back three to six months.
Comfort-wise, the G700 will feature Gulfstream’s tallest, widest, and longest cabin, measuring six feet, three inches (1.91 meters) high by eight feet, two inches wide, and 56 feet, 11 inches long, offering up to five living areas. The cabin configuration choices seat up to 19 passengers and sleep up to 13 in fully articulating and berthable seats from Gulfstream.
A large galley is well-equipped to bring a chef aboard to prepare meals from scratch instead of relying on catering. Master suite options include a master bath and spa shower.
The twinjet’s weather-topping maximum operating altitude of 51,000 feet, combined with a low cabin altitude (2,916 feet at 41,000 feet, and 4,850 feet at 51,000 feet), circadian lighting, and 100 percent non-recirculated air ensure passengers arrive fresh at their destinations. For staying productive and entertained along the way, Inmarsat JetConneX Ka-band broadband satellite communications comes standard.
With a 7,500-nm range and a new high-speed wing and winglet, the G700’s performance highlights include a max speed of Mach 0.925, max cruise of Mach 0.90, and a Mach 0.85 long-range cruise speed. Two Rolls-Royce Pearl 700 engines, tailored for the new jet, each deliver 18,250 pounds of thrust.
The G700, Gulfstream’s forthcoming flagship introduced in 2019, has set new performance and comfort standards. En route to EBACE, the aircraft—S/N 6, registered as N706GD—set its seventh international city-pair speed record: from Gulfstream's headquarters in Savannah, Georgia, to Geneva in 7 hours and 37 minutes—achieving an average speed of Mach 0.90. It conducted that flight using sustainable aviation fuel.
S/N 6—the first fully-outfitted production G700—returned to Savannah after the show to rejoin the other five flight-test aircraft in the certification program. Critical phases of flight tests—including envelope expansion, flutter, aerodynamic stalls, flight control systems, and cold weather and high altitude testing—have concluded. Gulfstream expects a second fully outfitted production test aircraft to make its first flight this summer.
Falcon 6X and 10X
Dassault displayed the fourth example of the 5,500-nm range Falcon 6X and the first fitted with a full cabin interior. An impressive cabin mockup for the even larger 10X twinjet also appeared in Geneva.
During June, the 6X conducted a four-week, 40-stop, 150-flight hour round-the-world tour to validate the reliability of the aircraft and onboard systems ahead of entry into service, now scheduled for mid-2023. That date reflects a delay from the original late 2022 schedule by a few months, caused by Covid-related supply chain disruptions.
During the tour, the aircraft flew with a full crew of pilots, flight attendants, engineers, and interior specialists. The company planned more than 250 test points and operations covered long-haul night flights, long runs at high speed (Mach 0.88), flying up to seven sectors in one day, and operations from a range of airfield elevations and short runways and in a wide range of climatic conditions.
The three earlier flight-test Falcon 6Xs have now amassed more than 850 flight hours since the first took to the air on March 10 last year. Envelope expansion and most development flying have finished, and the aircraft achieved Mach 0.97 in a shallow (15- to 17-degree) dive as part of the effort to clear it to fly operationally at up to Mach 0.90. It has operated from airfields of 9,000-foot elevation and in cold-soak conditions down to -30° degrees C. It also has performed heavy braking trials.
EASA flight evaluation has begun, while contaminated runway tests remain to be performed. The aircraft's Pratt & Whitney Canada PW812D engine won certification from Transport Canada late last year, and pilot training has started, while the first simulator for the Honeywell-based EASy IV flight deck underwent installation at CAE’s facility in Burgess Hill in England.
The fifth Falcon 6X—which will serve as the first customer aircraft—is now undergoing completion at Little Rock, Arkansas, and the sixth will join it there imminently. Aircraft S/Ns 7 to 15 remain in final assembly at Dassault’s Bordeaux-Mérignac factory.
Embraer's Strong Demand
Like its primary competitors, Brazil’s Embraer also reports strong demand for its business aircraft family, with a backlog stretching into 2024. This year, it expects to deliver between 100 and 120 aircraft, including a mix of its Phenom and Praetor families.
“New users are coming into the marketplace, and we are very well positioned with our products because those first-time buyers are coming to buy entry-level light jets and medium-category aircraft; whether they do that in a purchase sense or user sense, the numbers are significantly growing,” Embraer Executive Jets president Michael Amalfitano told AIN.
“Demand is there,” he added. “These are people who always could afford to buy a jet. In the past, they might not have the justification, but they’re health and safety-conscious.” Meanwhile, new buyers now more often opt for new aircraft due to the lack of availability of used aircraft with the same capabilities. “It’s an exciting time to be in business aviation," said Amalfitano. "There are a lot of good things going on in terms of innovation, not only in sustainability but also in technology.”