Brexit uncertainty coupled with low demand from the traditionally strong markets of Europe and China contributed to a slump of more than 60% in orders for Dassault Falcon business jets in the first half of 2019, dropping from 18 to just seven aircraft.
But bumper sales of 19 Falcons in July and August, along with a growing pipeline of prospective customers, have restored the backlog to 56 units and put the French airframer on a more confident footing.
Speaking in Paris on 4 September, Dassault Aviation chairman Eric Trappier expressed his concerns at the company's first-half figures. He says the firm was at a "pretty low ebb, in spite of the fact that the pre-owned aircraft [market] got off to a pretty good start".
Trappier says if he had been talking on 1 July about the company's six-month performance, "I might have been a bit more worried." But some customers were "pretty active" over the summer, he says, with the North American market a significant contributor. "The US economy is fairly buoyant and active," he says, with interest across the Falcon range.
There has been "a dip" in Europe, particularly the southern part of the continent, Trappier notes, attributing the slide in part to uncertainty over Brexit.
Trade tensions between the USA and China have also caused some "disquiet", hitting sales in what was previously one of Dassault's strongest markets for Falcon jets.
China is "flat", says Trappier, "but you've got to be patient". He points out, however, that customers in the country are "not buying from ourselves or from our competitors at the moment".
Dassault has invested heavily in China, and Trappier says its closeness to the market will eventually pay off when the economy bounces back: "You've just got to bide your time."
Meanwhile, work is progressing on the first flight-test article for the in-development 6X, which is scheduled for service entry in 2022. "We're really impatient to see this airplane," says Trappier.
Construction has started on wing subassemblies for the super-wide business jet, while four Pratt & Whitney Canada PW812D engines are undergoing testing, with more than 1,000h accrued to date – including 150h on a Boeing 747 flying testbed.
Dassault has secured several orders for the 6X. These, Trappier says, have helped offset some of the sales lost when Dassault axed the 5X in December 2016 over delays on the Safran Silvercrest engines. "We lost about four years with this whole affair, so the arrival of the 6X should boost our sales," he says.
Development work on the "future Falcon" programme is also advancing, but the details remain confidential, says Trappier.
For the six months ended 30 June, Dassault delivered a total of 17 Falcons – comprising the 8X, 7X, 900LX and 2000LXS – compared with 15 in the first half of 2018; it is maintaining its delivery guidance of 45 Falcons in 2019, level with 2018's figure.
"We've had better years; better vintages so to speak. We've had worse vintages too," says Trappier.
Source: Flight International