Business aircraft manufacturers continue to invest in new products, with about a dozen new or upgraded business aircraft in development--from supersonic aircraft to business jets and turboprops, despite a year marked by the effects of a global pandemic.
OEMs’ investment is “what brings customers to the table and they know it. It’s a very competitive space. And it is great news for the customer if you think of it. When has there been a greater time to be a customer? There’s so much choice,” says Rolland Vincent, head of Rolland Vincent Associates, a Plano, Texas-based market research and analysis firm. “I like our position as an industry; we’re snapping right out of this COVID slump.”
The economy and other business aviation indicators are trending upward; global business aviation activity so far in 2021 is down 9% compared to 2019, according to WingX Advance, pre-owned business aircraft transactions have risen, and manufacturers are reporting strong 2021 order activity.
“There’s a lot of optimism out there on the OEM side,” said Richard Aboulafia, Teal Group vice president of analysis. “From the standpoint of business aircraft demand, things are fine… I think there’s every reason in the world to be optimistic about a V-shaped recovery, and it’s very difficult to see what would derail us (the business aviation industry) to getting back to where we were within a matter of months.”
Many business aviation manufacturers have a variety of development programs in the works.
However, Vincent said. “I would say there’s a couple of OEMs that if they’re not working on something, they probably should be.”
Light Jet Activity
There are some “big visibility programs” at the top of the business jet market, such as Dassault’s Falcon 10X and Gulfstream’s G700, Vincent says. But “I’m looking for more activity in the middle-to-lower end of the market…. Honda, Embraer, Textron. I think there’s going to be some activity in the lighter end of the market,” which has performed well, he adds.
Analysts expect Honda Aircraft to eventually unveil additional products to its HondaJet offering. The company has taken measured efforts to size its factory for more products.
Embraer underwent an effort to form a joint partnership with Boeing, a deal that ultimately unraveled. “That really set them back,” Vincent says. Still, “I do think Embraer’s got something up its sleeve. It would be foolish not to have something in development, maybe in the light end…. I look at the Phenom 100. It’s hard to believe that airplane was delivering in crazy amounts a few years ago. It’s time to refresh.”
Textron Aviation has been at the forefront of the light and midsize segment of business aviation. In February, it announced the CJ4 Gen2, the next generation of the CJ4 with a redesigned interior offering large jet amenities in a smaller jet.
While it is a “nice upgrade, it does not really move the needle,” Vincent says, which is why “I think we’re going to see something from our friends in Wichita.”
While Bombardier is halting production of its Learjet 75 light jet, it may take time for the company to undertake a new development program in its Global and Challenger product lines. Bombardier management has said on financial calls with analysts that they are working to pay down debt rather than increase spending and feel as if they have a fresh lineup of product offerings for now. “We don’t have anything on the horizon for them until later in the decade,” Vincent says
At the upper end of the market, Dassault Aviation has two new business jets under development, the Falcon 6X, and the new Falcon 10X ultra-long-range jet, a new segment for the company, announced on May 6.
Dassault has made “big bets with the 6X and now the 10X,” Vincent says. Dassault officials have discussed the introduction of a new Falcon for the past couple of years, he says, and invested more than $600 million in 2020 in self-funded research and development.
The clean-sheet, 7,500 nm-Falcon 10X will compete head-on with Bombardier’s Global 7500 and Gulfstream’s G700.
“Anyone who knows this company (Dassault Aviation) knows they’ve got a unique corporate culture and amazing set of capabilities to define a product and executive on it,” Aboulafia says. “I just can’t see how this (the Falcon 10X) wouldn’t be some kind of success, and possibly quite a big one.”
The Falcon 10X will be the first Dassault business jet with a T-tail, the first to be powered by Rolls-Royce turbofans, the first to have a composite wing, and the first business aircraft to include dual head-up displays certified as primary flight displays. Designers also are keeping the future evolution of regulations toward single-pilot operations in mind. Should regulations change to allow single-pilot operation in the cruise phase of flight, the pilot seats are able to fully recline for crew rest. In addition, its Rolls-Royce Pearl 10X turbofan engines will be certified to operate on 100% sustainable aviation fuel. Entry-into-service is expected in late 2025.
The Falcon 6X, meanwhile, will have a 5,500 nm range and come equipped with Dassault’s FalconEye vision system and the FalconScan diagnostics system. Two Falcon 6X aircraft are in the flight test program with a third expected by summer. Certification and entry-into-service is expected in 2022.
At Gulfstream Aerospace, development is progressing on its new G700 ultra-long-range business jet, unveiled in 2019. To date, five test G700 aircraft have accumulated more than 1,400 flight hr. The aircraft will have up to five living areas and include full circadian lighting, 20 large windows, Jet ConneX Ka-band WiFi and newly designed seating. The G700 can seat up to 19 passengers and sleep up to 13. It is powered by two Rolls-Royce Pearl 700 engines with a maximum operating speed of Mach 0.925 and a high-speed cruise of Mach 0.90. Entry-into-service is expected in the fourth quarter of 2022.
Airbus Corporate Jets launched the ACJ TwoTwenty business jet in October, based on its A220-100 regional jet, and creating a new market segment it calls “The Xtra Large BizJet.” The aircraft will seat up to 18 passengers and have a range of up to 5,650 nm. It will include 785 sq. ft. of floor space and up to six VIP living areas. The first aircraft is expected to enter service in early 2023.
In the supersonic segment, Reno, Nevada-based Aerion continues development of the 12-passenger AS2 supersonic business jet designed to fly at Mach 1.4 with a range of more than 5,000 nm. In March, Aerion unveiled plans to build the Aerion AS3, a Mach 4+ supersonic airliner designed to carry 50 passengers and have a range of 7,000 nm. Aerion plans to release information on its design later this year. Meanwhile, Aerion has a backlog for its AS2 of about $6.7 billion, which represents more than 50 aircraft. First flight is expected in 2025 with entry-into-service at the end of 2027.
Textron Aviation is in the midst of several projects, with development continuing on the new Sky Courier 408 twin turboprop utility aircraft, the Cessna Denali single-engine turboprop and upcoming enhancements to the Beechcraft Bonanza and Baron.
In March, Textron Aviation began the final phase of its Cessna Sky Courier twin-turboprop flight test program with the start of certification flight testing of the utility aircraft, designed to convert from passenger to cargo. Launch customer FedEx has placed an order for 50 aircraft with an option for 50 more. The company expects FAA certification and first deliveries later in 2021.
Textron is also developing the Cessna Denali single-engine turboprop, a clean-sheet design announced in 2015. The Denali is powered by the new GE Aviation Catalyst engine, with major sections built from 3D printed parts. Textron Aviation pushed back first flight of the aircraft, once expected in 2019, to later in 2021 following a slowdown in the engine test program because of changes to FAA certification testing requirements and COVID-19.
At the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, Textron Aviation paused production and deliveries of the Beechcraft Bonanza and Beechcraft Baron to develop enhancements for the two aircraft. In April, the company unveiled the Bonanza G36 Special Edition aircraft, which will include a custom interior paint scheme inspired by Beech co-founder Olive Ann Beech’s signature blue color, called “Mrs. Beech Blue.” She incorporated the custom color on everything from her dress suits, office furnishings and personal aircraft interiors. The company declined to elaborate on specific upgrades to the Bonanza or to the Baron programs. Production on both aircraft will resume this year with deliveries in 2022, the company said.
Development in the light jet market is continuing with SyberJet Aircraft expecting to certify its SJ30i light jet in late 2022; Stratos Aircraft has completed the first phase of an envelope expansion program for the 716X single-engine light jet it is developing as a limited release kit aircraft, and Poland’s Flaris has resumed flight testing its LAR1 single-engine very light jet.