With the simultaneous launch on 4 October of two new business jets – the ultra-long-range G800 and large-cabin G400 – Gulfstream also appears to be targeting twin objectives: to fortify its position at the top end of the market, and to apply still more pressure on its rivals, and Bombardier in particular.
Unveiled to great fanfare at a live event at the airframer’s Savannah, Georgia headquarters, Gulfstream president Mark Burns said the arrival of the new pair means that it now boasts “an aircraft for every mission”.
Although the G400 was presented via a digital mock-up, the big surprise of the night was the public roll-out of the first G800 test aircraft – a prototype assembled in secrecy.
But the fact that Gulfsteam was able to quickly and quietly assemble that flight-test vehicle – while simultaneously working on the G700’s certification – points to a great strength of its strategy: both new aircraft are, to a greater or lesser extent, derivatives of existing models, sharing key components and therefore minimising research and development costs and risk.
Take the $71.5 million G800 for example: it is essentially a shrink of the G700 (which itself was developed from the G650). As such, the G700 and G800 share a wing, winglets, tail and fuselage cross section – with that last feature also shared by the G650. In addition, both newer jets are powered by the same Rolls-Royce Pearl 700 engines and have common cabin systems and the firm’s Symmetry flightdeck and BAE Systems active sidestick controls.
The G400, meanwhile, shares the G500’s wing and winglet, and has the same fuselage cross-section as the G500 and G600. Power comes from a pair of Pratt & Whitney PW812GA engines – a lower-thrust version of the PW814GA on the G500. Again, the Symmetry flightdeck and cabin systems are common across the three jets.
Burns says that the G800’s development has benefited from the “investment in design and manufacturing” for the G700. Parts are already being built for the test fleet, he says, with the initial example already undergoing “instrumentation and calibration” which is “clearing the way [for it] to begin flying”.
Gulfstream is confident that the rapid pace of development will see the G800 enter service in 2023. That timeframe is significant – putting the jet’s arrival two years in front of Dassault Aviation’s rival Falcon 10X, which will be powered by a higher-rated variant of the Pearl engine.
But how close are the two aircraft in performance terms? Gulfstream boasts that at 8,000nm (14,800km) the G800 will have the longest range of any purpose-built business jet, effectively a 500nm advantage over the Falcon 10X, and 300nm more than Bombardier’s Global 7500.
However, Dassault has been very public that it is not chasing range records with the Falcon 10X, believing that 7,500nm will connect the vast majority of potential city pairs. Instead, to convince customers to wait, it is banking on the comfort offered by the twinjet’s spacious cabin, which is taller and wider than that of the G800 and G700.
Whether the additional range will sway buyers remains to be seen, however. “When you get up into that range category is another 300nm going to make a difference? Maybe just for bragging rights,” argues business aviation consultant Brian Foley.
It is a view shared by aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia of Teal Group: “It is not going to result in more than a handful of additional sales,” he says.
In a sense, Gulfstream has done to Bombardier what the Canadian firm intended to do its rivals when it unveiled the Global 7000 – later renamed to reflect its improved range – and smaller, longer-range Global 8000 over a decade ago.
While the Global 7500 entered service in 2018, development of the Global 8000 remains on ice. However, should Bombardier feel that its flagship is sufficiently threatened by the new Gulfstream then it can “escape to the Global 8000 for fairly low cost”, says Foley.
But an easy solution is not immediately evident further down the Montreal firm’s line-up, where the G400 could pose difficult questions for Bombardier’s Challenger 650, an aircraft which has been in service since 2015, but whose heritage extends back to the early 1980s.
As well as providing an entry to the airframer’s range, Burns says that the G400 addresses a “void in innovation” in the large-cabin market. “Our customers asked Gulfstream to re-envision a category of airplane that the rest of the industry has left a bit dull and dormant.” The $34.5 million aircraft is set to enter service in 2025.
Both Foley and Aboulafia agree that Bombardier has run out of ways to further improve its 4,000nm-range jet. The only solution, they argue, is a clean-sheet design. But that is something “that Bombardier is not in a financial position to do,” says Foley, who argues that the airframer is “a little bit trapped with the Challenger 650.”
Aboulafia says the G400 is “going to grab market share, mostly at the expense of Bombardier. And there is not much they can do about it given their financial weakness. Finding at least $500 million to replace the Challenger 650 is not an option right now.”
Although he agrees that Bombardier does not have the money for a clean-sheet successor, George Ferguson, senior aerospace, defence and airline analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, believes the airframer may not have to hit the panic button just yet.
Strong post-pandemic demand for private aviation means that backlogs for all aircraft types are currently strong. Fleet sales too will play a part – an area of the market Gulfstream has previously been reluctant to engage with – and although the Challenger may be older, as its development costs have long since been amortised, “you can still move airplanes with a discount”, he says.
But regardless of what the new jets will do to the ranges of its rivals, the launch of the G800 signals the beginning of the end for the G650/ER.
“Eventually, the G800 will replace the G650. The G650ER is still in high demand, so we have not determined when production will end,” Gulfstream confirms.