More than 260 Falcon 7X trijets have entered service since mid-2007 and the fleet has logged more than 440,000 flight hours, according to Dassault Falcon Jet officials. BCA is conducting a second 7X Operators Survey now that the aircraft has had time to mature and dozens of product improvements have been made. Consistent with our findings in our March 2011 Operators Survey, Falcon 7X operators contacted for this follow-up report say the aircraft provides substantially more speed, range and cabin comfort compared to midsize and large-cabin aircraft they previously flew. Most of them moved up from Falcon 2000- and Falcon 900-series aircraft, so they are loyal to the brand.

Not surprisingly, Falcon 7X operators cited the aircraft’s best-in-class fuel efficiency, three-engine redundancy, EASy flight deck and runway performance as favorite features, much the same as they did during the last survey. But this time they also said they’re pleased with their aircraft’s dispatch reliability and Dassault product support. Five years ago, those were two areas with opportunities for improvement.

Back in 2011, we also heard grumblings about the shortcomings of the EASy cockpit. Many operators said Dassault fell short on delivering several of its promised capabilities. We learned that most of those deficiencies have since been rectified with the optional EASy II/II+ hardware and operating system upgrades.

Wes Gustafson, aviation manager at Valkyrie 7X LLC at Seattle’s Boeing Field/King County International Airport (BFI), is just as enthusiastic about the airplane as he was in 2011. “It’s a STOL machine. It’s got great aerodynamics, fly-by-wire and safety features. It’s easy to fly and very efficient.”

The aircraft has the highest cabin pressurization of any Falcon jet in production, affording passengers 4,000-ft. to 5,000-ft. cabin altitudes at typical cruise altitudes. Dassault offers a cabin air humidifier as an option. Operators also say the aft baggage compartment is considerably larger than that of older Falcon models, providing ample storage room for 12 to 13 passengers when all seats are occupied.

Several operators praised the hot-and-high takeoff performance of the airplane, saying that its three-engine redundancy makes it one of the few business aircraft that can achieve required climb gradients associated with some instrument departures at Rocky Mountain airports.

Most also say range performance is adequate for nonstop trips between most North American and European city pairs. Going between North America and Asia, they make the stops in Anchorage to top the tanks before continuing on to destination airports. But some say they are comfortable flying nonstop from Japan to the U.S. West Coast because of prevailing tailwinds.

In the current political environment in which business aircraft are frequent class warfare targets, operators are sensitive to ramp presence. They appreciate that the Falcon 7X has a relatively low profile compared to other large-cabin, long-range aircraft. Long-time Falcon 900 operators say that the 7X looks a lot like the older trijet but with a longer wingspan and fuselage.

Some also said they admired Dassault’s ability to build an aircraft with such a robust structure and yet such a light empty weight.

Operator Demographics and Mission Profiles

Of the aircraft in service, 117 are based in Europe, or about 45% of the world fleet, according to Dassault. These include 18 in Switzerland, 13 in France, eight in Luxembourg, seven each in Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Portugal, six in Russia, four in Ukraine and smatterings in other nations on the Continent.

Among corporate operators in Europe, Flying Service in Antwerp operates five aircraft. Shell Oil has four based in Rotterdam and Dassault Falcon Service at Paris-Le Bourget (LGB) manages four others. Long-time Falcon Jet operator Volkswagen AG in Wolfsburg has increased its Falcon 7X fleet to four aircraft. Palmali Shipping Group in Istanbul also operates two. The French Air Force operates two aircraft as VIP transports.

Formula One Management in London has operated serial number 008 since 2008. Premium watchmaker Patek Philippe in Geneva has operated a single 7X since 2009. But neighbor Rolex Montre sold its Falcon 7X and replaced it with a Bombardier Global 6000 in 2012. That Falcon 7X found a new home in the U.S. Charter operators such as TAG Aviation and NetJets Europe, plus high-net-worth individuals account for most of the others.

North America accounts for the second largest block of operators, with one in five aircraft on the continent. More than 50 Falcon 7X aircraft are based in the U.S., double the number recorded in our last survey. Half a dozen are based in Canada and five are in Mexico.

U.S. corporations Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and AT&T, along with Honeywell, Emerson Electric and Lowe’s Companies, plus Liberty Global and Liberty Media, McKesson, United Technologies and Whiteco Industries operate the 7X. High-net-worth individuals who made their fortunes at Microsoft, in the Silicon Valley, in the Napa Valley vineyards and in the hotel industry also fly the Falcon trijet. Texas Pacific Group now operates two, affirming the owner’s satisfaction with the model and brand.

Cisco Systems replaced its 7X with a Global 5000 in 2014. Nextel no longer operates its 7X and ADM has its 7X up for sale due to a downsizing of its flight department. Still, ADM pilots remain enthusiastic about the aircraft’s capabilities.

The next largest block of operators is based in the Asia-Pacific region, with 14 in Hong Kong, 11 in China and one each in Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.

All operators we contacted have opted for the no-cost 70,200-lb. increased ramp weight and 70,000-lb. MTOW, which are 1,000-lb. increases over the original specification. The boost was necessary as the typically equipped BOW climbed from 34,300 lb. to 36,600 lb. The increase allows operators to carry eight passengers with full fuel.

The downside is an increase in standard day takeoff distance from 5,555 ft. to 5,700 ft.

Dassault reports that the average mission duration for the fleet is just under 2.5 hr., or about 17% longer than five years ago. That results in a stage length of about 1,080 nm. Assuming standard-day conditions, the Falcon 7X can use 2,750-ft. runways for such missions, which is a better TOFL performance than that of many light jets.

Dassault reports that the Falcon 7X can fly eight passengers 5,600+ nm while cruising at Mach 0.80 and land with NBAA IFR reserves. That data is consistent with the BOWs reported by operators.

But most operators aren’t comfortable landing with 2,380-lb. NBAA IFR fuel reserves. Most say they want 3,000 lb. to 4,000 lb. remaining on touchdown. On international flights with no close-in alternate airport, some want 5,000 lb. of fuel remaining at touchdown. 

The fatter reserves allow for contingencies, such as early descents from cruise altitudes, amendments to ATC clearances, holding delays and lengthy diversions to alternates.

In light of these increased fuel reserves, operators say they can fly the aircraft 11.5 to 12.0 hr. and land with 3,000 lb. of fuel. Each additional 1,000 lb. of reserve fuel reduces flight endurance by about 25 min.

Most operators, though, report they seldom stretch the aircraft’s maximum range performance. As a result, on most missions they initially typically climb into the high thirties and cruise at Mach 0.85. First-hour fuel flows range from 3,000 pph to 3,500 pph. During the second hour, fuel flow drops to 2,700 to 2,800 pph. Near the end of the mission, fuel flows decrease to 2,500 pph or less. They also say there’s little loss of fuel efficiency when cruising at Mach 0.83 rather than the Mach 0.80 long-range cruise speed.

On shorter missions, such as U.S. coast-to-coast sprints, they can climb their aircraft directly into the low forties and liberally plan for 3,000-pph fuel flows. That usually leaves plush reserves in the tanks upon touchdown.

Operators proportionately decrease cruise speed down to Mach 0.80 long-range cruise. At heavy takeoff weights, the aircraft will climb to FL 370 to FL 390, depending upon outside air temperature. First-hour fuel burn ranges between 3,500 lb. and 4,500 lb., depending upon departure delays, ATC climb and speed restrictions.

Second-hour fuel flow drops to 3,000 pph or less. As fuel burn decreases aircraft weight and with a series of step-climbs, fuel flow drops to about 2,200 pph near the top of descent. Most operators say that actual aircraft performance is spot-on with Dassault’s book predictions. But the factory altitude, range, speed and fuel flow numbers must be adjusted for heavier-than-brochure BOWs, warmer-than-standard OATs and larger-than-NBAA fuel reserves.

The relatively low number of maximum range missions flown by operators also means that most U.S.-based operators haven’t configured their aircraft with full-berth crew rest areas.

There is a wide variation in 7X cabin configurations, reflecting the preferences and needs of different operators. The most common layout has a forward crew area with a lav and main galley on the right side and an aux galley on the left. In those aircraft, the main cabin is divided into three seating areas with a four-seat club section in front, a center four-seat conference grouping on the left flanked by a credenza on the right side, and an aft section with one three-seat divan and one or two individual chairs. The main passenger lav is at the rear of the aircraft and there is an in-flight accessible baggage compartment at the rear.

Some aircraft, though, have full, lay-flat bunks up front and others use berthable seats in the main cabin for crew rest. Aircraft with full-sized crew rest compartments up front on the right side have left-side galleys aft of the entry door. A few aircraft have an extended crew rest and galley area up front, resulting in the loss of the two aft-facing club chairs in the forward cabin.

Most of those configurations will seat 12 to 16 passengers in various combinations of individual or conference chairs plus divans. However, the average passenger load of the operators we contacted was 3.5 people. Large corporations that have fleets of aircraft tend to have higher load factors than high-net-worth individuals who operate the aircraft.

Five Best and Worst Features

The last time we surveyed Falcon 7X operators, they weren’t hesitant to express their enthusiasm about the aircraft. This time, they were even more positive in their praise, perhaps because of improved dispatch reliability and better product support.

Range, speed and fuel efficiency again ranked close to the top of their five favorite features. The aircraft can fly nonstop from Beijing to Geneva, Buenos Aires to St. Louis or Budapest to Seattle. They also like the near 30-kt. increase in long-range cruise speed compared to the Falcon 900LX and 2000LXS. The Falcon 7X’s larger, more swept and redesigned wing is 30% more efficient at Mach 0.80. Operators said it has virtually the same fuel burn at Mach 0.80 as the 900LX.

“Our passengers just love this airplane. It’s fast, it’s quiet and it’s easy to operate,” commented the aviation manager of a large corporation. Another chief pilot said, “What’s not to like about this aircraft?”

Fuel efficiency was an important consideration in operators’ competitive analyses of the Falcon 7X versus other long-range aircraft built by Bombardier and Gulfstream. Operators said that the Falcon 7X burns as much as one-third less fuel than some purpose-built, large-cabin, long-range competitors.

Passenger comfort and cabin quiet also ranked near the top of operators’ lists of favorite features. The Falcon 7X has the same fuselage diameter as the Falcon 900 series, but the interior is almost 6 ft. longer and its 28 cabin windows are larger and more numerous. Pressurization has been increased from the 900EX’s 9.3 psid to 10.2 psid on the 7X, resulting in lower cabin altitudes at typical cruise altitudes. At FL 450, for instance, cabin altitude is less than 5,000 ft. The lower cabin altitude reduces both crew and passenger fatigue on long missions.

Low cabin noise levels also reduce fatigue. One operator said his airplane has 48 dBA sound level in the aft cabin during cruise.

The aircraft’s advanced technology features, including its digital fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system and EASy cockpit, also were ranked highly by operators. At the time of purchase, Falcon 7X operators believed their aircraft offered more advanced technology than its Bombardier or Gulfstream competitors. Then, it was the only purpose-built business aircraft to offer digital FBW flight controls. Now, Bombardier, Embraer and Gulfstream all offer purpose-built business aircraft with FBW controls.

Operators believe that the Falcon 7X’s FBW provides a smoother ride because computers automatically make subtle inputs to flight control surfaces in all three axes in turbulence to maintain aircraft trajectory. The FBW system also enabled Dassault engineers to reduce the size of the tail because the digital flight controls incorporate stability augmentation functions and low- and high-speed flight envelope protection.

The EASy cockpit graphic user interface with its trackball and point-and-click entry system now is well accepted by Falcon 7X pilots. Most pilots no longer view it as a new and novel design. They’re especially appreciative of the EASy II hardware and operating system upgrade that makes possible synthetic vision, WAAS/LPV approach guidance, CPDLC, ADS-B and FANS 1/A functions. The first versions of the EASy II operating system had bugs. About nine months after its introduction, Dassault introduced EASy II+, which patches the software glitches.

But getting EASy II/II+ is like getting the one open table at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Paris. That’s just the first step. As with the Guy Savoy’s menu, everything on the EASy II/II+ app, including all the functions mentioned, is a la carte and expensive. Plan on spending $1 million to $1.25 million to upgrade your Falcon 7X to the complete standard. That’s on top of the $1 million Dassault charges for the optional head-up guidance system and infrared EVS camera.

Still, operators found it difficult to name five aspects of the aircraft they didn’t like. Yet, the Falcon 7X’s autothrottles earned some grumbles. Operators say the system works fine in cruise, but it’s not responsive enough to maintain set speed during landing approach, particularly in gusting wind conditions. Many say they disconnect it and handle the thrust levers themselves when
maneuvering.

Missing from the list of complaints were all the remarks we heard five years ago about computer problems, such as nuisance or spurious CAS messages, error codes experienced during boot-up and FBW test faults. Such snags no longer delay departures or result in AOG dispatch cancellations.

Rigorously following step-by-step checklists, though, is a must with the 7X. Many checks must be completed with the parking brake set, including starting the APU and the FBW built-in-test procedure after engine start. Operators said they have to run through a complete set of FBW system built-in tests every time they shut down and restart an engine. The computers forcefully drive the primary flight control surfaces to full travel during those checks.

“The whole airplane looks like a wet dog shaking itself off,” said one operator. Another chief pilot countered that his passengers now have become accustomed to the quirk.

Notably, we know of no other transport category airplane with FBW flight controls that requires such palpable and audible BIT checks.

Crosswind yaw control authority was an issue for many operators during our last survey. But a series of flight control software Service Bulletins now has corrected the problem, operators say.

Operators also say there’s more usable room in the cockpit because the sidestick replaces the control yoke and stalk. In addition, the sidestick makes crew seat access easy. The pilots also like the foldout tables.

Dassault furnishes a telescoping tow bar with the aircraft, but it’s limited to 49,000 lb. An optional Service Bulletin provides a more robust tow bar capable of handling weights up to 70,200 lb.

On Balance

The Falcon 7X provides reliable, fast, fuel-efficient, long-range business transportation. But it’s not inexpensive to operate. Most operators we contacted said they’ve enrolled their aircraft in FalconCare, a maintenance parts and service program that covers virtually all airframe maintenance, including 600-hr./9 month A checks, 2,400 hr. B checks and 96-month C checks. The average cost is about $22,500 per month, $575 per flight hour and $575 per landing cycle.

Engine maintenance is covered by Pratt & Whitney Canada’s Eagle Service Plan (ESP), priced at about $260 per engine. Honeywell MSP for the APU runs close to $47 per operating hour.

Dispatch reliability now tops 99.6%. GoTeams based in North America, Europe, Brazil and Asia can be dispatched to support AOG aircraft in the field. In addition, Dassault now offers FalconResponse, an enhanced AOG support service that uses two Falcon 900 aircraft to rush small parts, hand tools and technicians to repair disabled aircraft. Larger parts and shop tools are shipped via truck or commercial air freight.

If a customer’s aircraft cannot be returned to service in short order, the Falcon 900 response aircraft are available to provide supplemental lift to transport stranded passengers to their destinations.

Parts support is much improved. Dassault now claims that parts arrive at customers’ facilities on or before the required date 98% of the time. Parts warehouses in New York, Paris, Africa, the Middle East and Asia have shortened the transit times. Few operators now complain about ready parts availability for scheduled inspections or AOGs awaiting parts arrival.

On balance, Falcon 7X operators are quite pleased with their aircraft. That bodes well for the introduction of the Falcon 8X in the second half of this year. A large portion of Falcon 8X customers is moving up from the Falcon 7X. The new model is an iterative design, so development risks have been minimal and it should have few teething problems compared to the Falcon 7X in its youth.

Brand loyalty among operators of new Falcon 7X aircraft appears to be stronger than at any time in recent history. Tip-to-tail FalconCare airframe maintenance support, Pratt & Whitney Canada ESP and Honeywell MSP have enabled operators to predict operating costs precisely, to submit rock-solid annual operating budgets to top management.

Falcons always have been engineered with passion. Falcon 7X operators say that passion now is matched with everyday practicality as well.

This article appears in the April 2016 issue of Business & Commercial Aviation with the title "Dassault Falcon 7X."