Almost two decades ago, the Astra IV became the first super-midsize business aircraft, launching an all-new market segment. Since then, four business aircraft manufacturers have entered the market, each one offering a distinctive blend of qualities.

The Astra IV/Galaxy/G200 had the best cabin cross section, an evolutionary airframe and simple systems, but mediocre runway, climb and cruise performance. However, the Galaxy was first to market and it gained early sales success. Raytheon (now Hawker Beechcraft) pursued a revolutionary design with its Hawker Horizon/4000, having a lean cabin cross section, strong performance and sophisticated systems modeled after those of the Gulfstream IV. The Bombardier Continental/Challenger 300 embraced a low-risk approach, but it is endowed with a wider cabin and equally strong performance.

In the last two to three years, the second-generation super-midsize aircraft made their debut. Embraer jumped in with the Legacy 500, promising best-in-class value as well as fly-by-wire flight controls. Gulfstream capitalizes on lessons learned from its Savannah-built aircraft, enabling the firm to transform the matronly G200 into the sporty G250, a true Gulfstream by any measure.

The second-generation super-midsize business aircraft continue a trend toward offering passengers more cabin volume, better fuel efficiency, a lower noise signature and reduced carbon emissions. Newer super-midsize models also have better takeoff field performance than first-generation aircraft in this class, along with advanced avionics systems that rival those of large-cabin aircraft, such as paperless charts, synthetic vision systems, HUDs with enhanced vision systems and high-speed Internet access.

Clearly, customer expectations are being raised. Some emerging aircraft will blur the distinction between super-midsize and large-cabin business aircraft. Dassault’s super-midsize aircraft, for instance, is likely to be based upon its large-cabin Falcon 7X. If the economy improves enough to warrant Cessna’s reviving its Citation 850 Columbus program, that super-midsize should be able to fly as far as a large-cabin Challenger 605 as well as cruise faster. Embraer could counter with a higher thrust version of the Legacy 600 that would offer improved takeoff performance, retain its ability to fly eight passengers more than 3,200 nm at high-speed cruise and provide the largest cabin in class.

The future of the super-midsize class looks bright. A large segment of business aircraft operators still need an aircraft that fills the gap left in the market when Gulfstream ceased production of the GII in 1979. The core requirements remain unchanged. Super-midsize operators want a comfortable and useful cabin including a fully flat floor, full-service galley, full-width aft lav and full-time access to all baggage. The aircraft should be able to fly eight passengers with 3,000-plus nm range at Mach 0.80. Strong short-field performance is a major asset because it provides access to thousands of close-in general aviation airports. To be viable in the super-midsize class, an aircraft must have acquisition and operating costs well below the bottom of the heavy-iron class.

Not all super-midsize aircraft offer all of these assets. But each has a personality, performance capabilities and a price point that distinguishes it from its competitors. The segment will expand as new models make their debut in response to market demand. Look for SMS to grow into one of the largest niches in the business aircraft market. BCA