Once upon a time it was enough for a manufacturer to have one high-end jet at the top of their business-aircraft product line. But the resiliency of “heavy metal” sales through the prolonged business aviation downturn following the market collapse in 2009 has changed that. The salami-slicing of market sectors that began with light jets has come to the large-cabin category.

The reason is clear. Honeywell says large-cabin aircraft will make up 75% by value of business jets delivered in the near term, increasing to 85% over the next decade. That is 60% of the 9,450 aircraft Honeywell forecasts will be delivered in 2015-24. Offering customers a wider range of large aircraft is clearly a strategy for success in such a market.

It is a trend that began before the global financial crisis of 2008 threw the business aviation market into recession. Until it introduced the GV in 1995, Gulfstream had produced only one model at a time. But it continued to build the large-cabin GIV alongside the long-range GV and in 2002 further subdivided its offerings into the GIV-based G300 and G400 and GV-based G500 and G550.

When the ultra-long-range G650 was introduced in 2008, it was an addition to the large-cabin lineup. The subdivide-and-conquer strategy has clearly worked. While overall business-jet shipments stayed flat, Gulfstream boosted large-cabin deliveries to 121 aircraft in 2013, up from 75 in 2009. That total puts the company well ahead of rivals Bombardier and Dassault.

With first delivery of the extended-range G650ER and launch of the all-new G500/G600 family late in 2014, Gulfstream’s large-cabin lineup now totals six models with list prices from $39 million to $66.5 million. The 7,500-nm-range G650ER sits alongside the 7,000-nm G650, while the 4,350-nm G450 and 6,750-nm G550 will continue in production after the G500 and G600 enter service.

With new engines, higher speed, a wider cabin, larger windows, an advanced cockpit and fly-by-wire, the 5,000-nm G500 is planned to fly in 2015 and enter service in 2017. At $43.5 million, the aircraft competes with Bombardier’s Global 5000 and Dassault’s Falcon 5X. The stretched, 6,200-nm G600 is expected to fly in 2016 and enter service in 2018, at $54.5 million, competing with the Global 6000 and Falcon 7X.

Gulfstream’s large-jet diversification has not gone unmatched by Bombardier and Dassault. The Canadian manufacturer is focusing investment on developing the ultra-large-cabin Global 7000 and ultra-long-range Global 8000 to flesh out its heavy metal lineup. With new engines, fly-by-wire, longer cabin and larger windows, the $72 million, 7,300-nm Global 7000 is to fly in 2015 and enter service in 2016; the shorter-cabin, but longer-range, 7,900-nm Global 8000 following a year behind.

Dassault also has boosted its large-cabin offerings by launching the all-new Falcon 5X and the Falcon 8X, an extended-range version of its Falcon 7X. Both aircraft will fly early in 2015, the 6,450-nm Falcon 8X to enter service at the end of 2016 and the 5,200-nm Falcon 5X in 2017. Together, they give the French manufacturer a six-model large-cabin lineup spanning a $27-58 million price range.

Embraer serves the large-cabin market with repurposed regional jets. But the Brazilian manufacturer level-loads its engineering department, and once development of its KC-390 military airlifter and E-Jet E2 regional airliners ramps down later this decade, it could launch a new large-jet family to complement its Phenom light and Legacy mid-size products.

Narrowly segmenting the market made Cessna a powerhouse in the light jet category, but became a liability when sales of smaller business jets were hit hardest by the downturn and production rates shrank. Today, Cessna’s Citation lineup still includes five closely pitched light jets, but the company’s product-development focus is on the large end of its range.

Cessna responded to market challenges by quickly fielding updated models in a bid to stimulate demand while it develops new aircraft. In rapid succession, the company has delivered the upgraded Citation M2 and CJ3+ light jets, mid-size Sovereign+ and high-speed Citation X+. The new mid-size Latitude is in flight test for certification in the second quarter of 2015. But design of the super-mid-size Longitude, planned for certification in 2017, is in flux. Already to be Cessna’s biggest jet since the Columbus, which was shelved in 2009, it may yet get bigger.

Bombardier has put its all-new, all-composite Learjet 85 mid-size jet on the back burner—although it only made its first flight in April—to focus on larger models. The company began delivering the upgraded super-mid-size Challenger 350 in August, and the updated large-cabin Challenger 650 is to follow in the second quarter of 2015. Developed rapidly, both feature improved engines, avionics and cabins.

Embraer, meanwhile, entered the mid-size market in October when it began delivering the all-new, fly-by-wire Legacy 500. The shorter, mid-light Legacy 450 is in flight test for certification in August 2015. These aircraft are crucial to boosting Embraer’s market share. The manufacturer almost matched Cessna on light-jet deliveries in 2013 with its Phenoms, but by the third quarter of 2014 the U.S. company had pulled ahead on shipments of the new Citation M2.

Business aviation may be showing signs of recovery after five years of recession, but it is modest and mixed. Aviation Week Intelligence Network forecasts a slight drop in deliveries over the next five years, to 5,256 jets in 2015-19 from 5,315 in 2014-18. But because of the shift to larger aircraft the forecast value of shipments will increase to $147.9 billion, from $136 billion. As a result, Bombardier, Dassault and Gulfstream will increase their market share at the expense of Cessna and Embraer.

In terms of numbers of turbine aircraft delivered, Textron Aviation—formed in February by combining Cessna and Beechcraft—entered the last quarter of 2014 well ahead of the field in numbers, but well behind leaders Gulfstream and Bombardier in billings. But turboprop deliveries have held up through the downturn, and Textron plans to build on the strengths of both brands. Pilatus, meanwhile, hopes to parlay success in the single-turboprop utility market with the PC-12 into a share of the light jet market with the PC-24, which is expected to fly in 2015 aiming for certification in 2017. 

 

Gallery See a review in photographs of key events in the business aviation sector in 2014 at: AviationWeek.com/BizAv2014

 

A version of this article appears in the December 29, 2014/January 14, 2015 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology.