ANALYSIS: Falcon 8X laid bare

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This is a very busy time for Dassault. Less than seven months after launching its all-new, large-cabin Falcon 5X, the French airframer has introduced a new business jet to sit at the head of its family of high-end, twin- and tri-engined business jets.

The 8X has the longest cabin and longest range of any Falcon produced in the company’s history spanning more than 50 years. Its introduction strengthens the company’s offering in the coveted ultra-long-range sector, which has been largely unscathed by the bruising financial downturn – thanks to the continued demand for these types from the world’s wealthy elite and global corporations.

Unlike the clean-sheet 5X, the 8X is an enhanced and stretched version of its former flagship Falcon, the 7X.

The 19-seat trijet was launched internally three years ago under the project name M1000. Dassault has kept the programme tightly under wraps over this period, successfully diverting industry attention to its all-new business jet, which it cloaked under the titles “SMS” or “Future Falcon”.

This large cabin, long-range twinjet – now known as the 5X – was finally launched in October 2013 as Dassault’s widest-cabin offering. “This was the first time we have had such an overwhelmingly positive reaction to our aircraft after an official launch,” says Dassault chairman and chief executive Eric Trappier.

Dassault will be hoping the new 8X will be as well received following its launch on 19 May. “I’m sure the market is going to be enthusiastic,” says Trappier. “This aircraft builds on Dassault expertise in aerodynamics, in precision design and manufacturing, and in advanced digital flight controls. It embodies the best of Falcons that have come before with the most capability of any Falcon ever.”

The 8X and 5X are being developed in parallel, marking what Trappier calls “an unprecedented financial investment [in Falcon jets] for Dassault”.

The company now boasts a family of six business jets designed, Trappier says, “to meet the widest possible range of operator needs at the upper end of the business jet spectrum”.

The Falcon line-up spans the 3,350nm (6,200km)-range super-midsize 2000S – Dassault’s entry-level offering – to the latest “flagship” 8X, with a 6,450nm range.

Trappier points out that 2,000 Falcons have been delivered since the company’s first business jet, born as the Mystère 20 and later renamed the Falcon 20, entered service in 1965. In the intervening years, the French airframer has introduced seven new aircraft and 14 derivatives, including its
first tri-engined jet, the Falcon 50, in 1976. Production of the super-midsize aircraft – then called the 50EX following a re-engining effort – ceased in 2008.

The 1980s marked the introduction of the Falcon 900 trijet and twin-engined 2000 series. More than 1,000 variants of these aircraft are flying worldwide, says Trappier.

Dassault waited until 2001 to make its foray into the long-range market. The tri-engined 7X entered service in 2007 and the programme is now approaching its 250th delivery milestone.

“The 7X has been a huge success for us,” says John Rosanvallon, president and chief executive of Dassault Falcon Jet. “But for some of our customers its [5,950nm] range and cabin length is not long enough,”

Rosanvallon admits the company needed to capture the move-up market to fend off competition from rival aircraft such as the Bombardier Global 6000, Gulfstream G550 and G650.

“Dassault’s answer is the 8X,” says Rosanvallon, “which offers 5,000nm more range than the 7X”.

This extra range, he argues, allows the 8X to connect to more city pairs than its stable mate.

Rosanvallon explains: “Flying at Mach 0.8 with eight passengers and three crew, the 8X can fly non-stop from Paris to Singapore, Lagos to Chicago, Mumbai to Sydney and Moscow to Los Angeles and importantly, Beijing-Los Angeles and Hong Kong to London. This will appeal to the Chinese market.” The 7X has the capacity to fly from London to Hong Kong, but not the other way around – because of the headwinds, he says.

China has become a crucial region for Dassault in recent years. Here, Falcon jets account for around 30% of the region’s business jet fleet. The desire for long-range aircraft, mainly from Chinese entrepreneurs, has resulted in deliveries of 30 7Xs in the past three years alone, including 11 of the tri-engined types in 2013. “With this extra range and longer cabin, we expect the 8X to be well-received in China,” Rosanvallon says.

dassault 8x

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DESIGN ENHANCEMENTS

To give the 8X this vital extra range, Dassault has introduced a number of refinements and enhancements to the aircraft’s design.

These include an extra fuel tank within the centre fuselage section, which enables the 8X to carry up to 15,800kg (34,900lb) fuel – compared with 14,500kg carried by the 7X. The 8X will also feature a redesigned ultra-efficient wing derived from the Falcon 7X. “The wing structure has been redesigned to minimise the overall aircraft drag during cruise while achieving 600lb weight saving,” says Olivier Villa, senior vice president, civil aircraft. “It will also feature an optimised leading edge profile and winglets. These improvements are expected to increase significantly the lift to drag ratio.”

The 8X will be equipped with three Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307D engines, each delivering 6,720lb (30kN) of thrust – a 5% increase compared to the PW307As that power the Falcon 7X. These engines will offer a new full authority digital engine control system, as well as a significant reduction in fuel consumption, noise and nitrogen oxide emissions, says Dassault.

The 8X has an anticipated balanced field length of about 1,830m (6,000ft), an approach speed of about 107kt (200km/h) at typical landing weight and an ability to make approaches at up to 6˚. "The 8X is incredibly versatile," says Villa. "Like the 7X, it will operate many of the world’s most
challenging airports, including London City, UK, Aspen, Colorado, La Mole-Saint Tropez, France and Saannen, Switzerland, which are normally not accessible to most large-cabin aircraft,” he adds.

Following in the footsteps of its smaller sibling, the 8X will be capable of flying non-stop from London City – which has a 5˚ steep approach – to New York, says Dassault.

COCKPIT AND CABIN FEATURES

The 8X will be equipped with a totally redesigned cockpit modelled on that of the 5X. It will feature a new iteration of the EASy flightdeck, based on Honeywell Primus Epic avionics – with Honeywell flight management systems. Another facet of the cockpit is the head-up display technology, provided by Elbit Systems, combining an enhanced and synthetic vision (EVS/SVS) to offer improved situational awareness in darkness, fog or dense haze. EVS uses infrared sensors to display terrain in darkness and reduced visibility. SVS uses a global terrain database for the same purpose. In the 8X, they will be combined on the head-up display to provide a high-fidelity view of the outside world, even in zero visibility.

The 8X has the same cabin cross-section as the 7X but more than 1.1m has been added to the length. “This extra space has allowed us to offer three floor plans for our customers, offering up to 30 different interior configurations [including three lounges],” says Villa. The short entryway layout is the same as for the 7X but the cabin will be 17% longer and the rear baggage compartment larger.

The middle entryway configuration offers a 25% bigger galley and a 7% larger passenger cabin, Dassault says, while the large entryway layout is equipped with “a comfortable and convertible crew rest area”. To accommodate this entrance layout, the cabin length will be the same as that of the 7X.

This arrangement, Dassault suggests, is likely to appeal to commercial operators that travel long distances and have to adhere to strict flight time regulations for their crews. The 8X also has a shower option. “This is a big constraint in the 7X,” Dassault says, because of a shortage of cabin space. “We’ll offer infinite possibilities for 8X cabin configurations,” it adds.

The 8X cabin also features up to 33 windows, depending on the configuration, compared with a maximum of 29 windows on the 7X.

DEVELOPMENT TIMETABLE

Dassault is planning to build two aircraft for the certification campaign. The first 8X is already at an advanced stage of production, it says.

The fully assembled and pressure-tested fuselage and wings – manufactured at Dassault’s Biarritz and Martignas-sur-Jalle facilities respectively – will be shipped in the third quarter to the company’s Merignac final assembly plant in Bordeaux. Its first flight is planned for early 2015, leading to certification in the first quarter of 2016 and service entry later that year.

The test aircraft are likely to be used as demonstrators and could be sold to customers at a later date.

Dassault is poised to expand its US completions facility in Little Rock, Arkansas, to accommodate the 8X and 5X.

The 8X will be produced and sold in parallel with the 7X and Dassault expects to manufacture around three aircraft a month initially.

MARKET DEMAND

The 8X will be priced at around $57 million – 10% more than the 7X. Dassault expects the bulk of the demand will come from existing 7X customers seeking to move up to a larger, longer-range aircraft or to trade-in their older Falcons.

Given the relatively small price differential between its two top-end products, is there is a danger that the 8X will cannibalise the 7X market? “We will have to wait and see what the market decides,” says Rosenvallon. “There will always be customers who don’t need the extra range and longer cabin and won’t want to pay 10% more for the 8X. Only time will tell.”

FAMILY PLANNING

Meanwhile, Dassault says it is continuing to evaluate the market for the ultra-long-range derivative of the 5X to compete against the in-development Global 7000 and 8000 and the G650. “We haven’t found a business case for an aircraft of this size yet,” Rosanvallon says.

A key concern for Dassault is the operating restrictions that a larger business jet will impose. “A bigger aircraft requires bigger wings and this could limit its access to popular airports such as St Tropez,” it argues.

Dassault is in no hurry to make a decision. Rosanvallon points to the development timescales of its previous new aircraft programmes to indicate a possible launch date. “The 7X entered service in 2007 and the 8X was launched seven years later with entry in service scheduled for 2016,” he says. “EIS of the 5X is also scheduled for 2016, so don’t expect a derivative to enter the market until nine years later.”