ANALYSIS: Gulfstream G650ER aims to be long-range leader in the business jet market

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Gulfstream has strengthened its dominance of the coveted ultra-long-range business jet sector with the launch in May of its G650ER.

The 7,500nm (13,875km), 16 passenger aircraft will sit at the top of the Savannah-based airframer’s family of twin-engined business jets, and will possess the longest legs of any in-service business jet to date.

Gulfstream now boasts a family of six business jets positioned in the top half of the business aircraft spectrum.

The line-up includes Gulfstream’s entry-level offering, the $15.7 million, 3,000nm range midsize G150 as well as the $24.5 million, 3,600nm super-midsize G280. In the large cabin sector the company has the $42.2 million, 4,350nm G450 and the $60 million, 6,750nm G550; while in the ultra-long-range sector it now has the $64.5 million 7,000nm G650 and the $66.5 million G650ER.

This niche business aircraft category has been left largely unscathed by the financial downturn due to the continued demand for these high-end aircraft from the world’s wealthy elite and global corporations.

“We had a great response to the aircraft following its launch,” says Gulfstream’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, Scott Neal.

“Customers had been asking for more range and capability. While the baseline G650 covers a huge numbers of city pairs with its 7,000nm range, there are always people who need to fly further. The 650ER will be the only business aircraft in the world capable of travelling 7,500nm.”

This additional range opens city-pairs such as Dallas and Dubai and San Francisco and New Delhi, according to Gulfstream. The G650ER demonstrator recently completed long-distance flights from Los Angeles to Melbourne and from Hong Kong and New York, to establish the aircraft’s performance credentials.

To accommodate this extra range, the G650ER incorporates about 1,810kg (4,000lb) of extra fuel compared with the G650. This has been added without the need to strengthen the airframe structure and landing gear or increase engine thrust, the airframer says.

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  1. The twinjet has completed flights from Los Angeles to Melbourne and from Hong Kong to New York

Gulfstream

Although the structure is maintained, Gulfstream had to tweak the system that monitors fuel flow and the G650ER‘s flight management software.

Take-off distance for the flagship model is extended slightly by just over 440ft (134m) to 6,299ft, in order to preserve the 10,000h time between overhaul rating of the Rolls-Royce BR725 A1-12 engines, which also power the G650, Gulfstream says.

Maximum ramp weight and fuel weight are also increased by 1,810kg to 46,990kg and 21,860kg respectively.

Despite the extra weight the G650ER will share the same ceiling and operating speeds of the G650, including its Mach 0.85 normal cruise and Mach 0.925 maximum cruise speeds.

“The G650ER provides the mission flexibility to fly longer routes at higher cruise speeds or carry heavier payloads on shorter missions,” says Gulfstream. “Cruising at near Mach 0.90 the G650ER will comfortably carry eight people 6,400nm.”

With the exception of the minor adjustments, the G650ER is identical to its stablemate. It features the same choice of 12 interiors and floorplans, 16 large panoramic windows and Gulfstream’s bespoke cabin management system, along with its Honeywell Primus Epic-based PlaneView II cockpit with enhanced vision systems and head up display.

“The ER will build on the success of the G650, which already flies father than any other in-service traditional business jet to date,” says Neal.

The G650 was launched in 2010 and became “Gulfstream’s most successful product introduction ever,” Neal says.

The aircraft was originally unveiled with a 6,000nm range, but Gulfstream added 1,000nm to the specification sheet as the type achieved certification in 2012.

The G650 has been in service for around 20 months and by the middle of July, 70 examples of the type were in service, according to Flightglobal’s Ascend fleet database.

Half of the G650 customers are based in North America, followed by Europe with 19% and Asia-Pacific with 9% of the global inventory.

Gulfstream will not disclose the size of the orderbook for the G650ER, but Ascend reveals the airframer has secured 61 sales for the G650 family, and a letter of intent for another ten aircraft. “Many of our G650 customers have converted to the ER model and we have also secured new ER orders since its launch,” Neal says.

Private individuals, government and corporations are the bedrock of the G650 global customer base, Neal says. Global brands such as ExxonMobil, Nike, Pfizer, Starbucks and Walt Disney are already members of this exclusive owners’ club, according to Ascend.

For Gulfstream, the corporate sector is less stable than other markets. “There is always more pressure on corporations to assess their spending requirements when the economy isn’t doing well, and this will have an impact on aircraft sales,” says Neal. In contrast the exclusive high net worth individual segment has provided a constant and steady stream of new customers. “Private customers have predictable purchasing cycles which are less affected by a financial downturn,” says Neal. “Despite this, we are seeing good activity and encouraging signs across both of these sectors now.”

The popularity of the G650 series is manifested in the three-year waiting list for the twinjet.

This is not a setback for Gulfstream, however. “This is a short waiting time compared to the eight-year backlogs that were typical at the height of the market in 2007,” Neal says. “Owners that don’t want to wait for an aircraft are given the choice of a G550 or G450 to use until their aircraft is ready for delivery. This is a popular option.”

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Less patient buyers have turned to the used aircraft market for instant gratification. However, the strong demand and lengthy lead times have impacted the price and availability of the G650. According to Tim Barber, director of international aircraft broker Jet Brokers Europe, G650 sellers can ask for prices in excess of $70 million. “We seem to be back to the heady days of 2007 as far the G650 is concerned,” he says. “It is simply a case of supply and demand. The demand is there but the supply is not. There isn’t a single G650 for sale right now.”

This is welcome news for Gulfstream and its customers, many of whom Neal says have converted their existing G650 orders into the ER versions that will begin rolling off the production line in the second half of 2015. A number of existing G650 owners have signed up for the $2 million ER retrofit, which will be offered throughout Gulfstream’s service centre network from early next year. “People are taking the ER because of its resale value,” says Gulfstream’s vice president of communications Steve Cass.

Aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia praises Gulfstream’s strategy in blazing a trail in the lucrative ultra-long-range sector. “Gulfstream is also doing a great job leveraging its brand, which is about the best in the business,” he says.

“It is very smart to attack this segment for the following reasons. One, it’s clear that part of the market will pay any price for the very biggest and most capable product it can get, so why not seize the high ground? Two, Bombardier, its direct competitor, clearly has its hands full with the CSeries and Lear 85. That gives Gulfstream complete dominance of this new segment for five years, at least.”

Gulfstream’s product has a lengthy head start on its nearest rivals – Bombadier’s 7,300nm range Global 7000 and 7,900nm range Global 8000 – which are scheduled to enter service in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Dassault’s 6,450nm range Falcon 8X, which sits at the lower end of the ultra long-range sector, is also slated for service entry in 2016.

“We expect to have delivered more than 200 G650/ERs by then,” Cass says, “firmly establishing our dominance of this sector.”

While the Gulfstream dominance of the ultra-long-range sector is not in doubt, Aboulafia warns that the market appeal of the G650ER will inevitably impact sales of the G650. “The 650 and 650ER are basically pursuing the same market segment,” he says. “Either the 650ER will cannibalise the 650's market presence, or make the 650 altogether obsolete.”

Cass dismisses these concerns. “There is plenty of demand for both models, and we continue to produce them side-by-side,” he says.