Dassault Aviation is considering development of a supersonic jet (SSJ) business jet, six years after rival aircraft manufacturers Gulfstream Aerospace and Sukhoi aborted the last project aimed at the supersonic corporate-jet sector.

"The time is now right to talk about a Falcon SST - the so-called global twins do not provide a satisfactory answer," says Jean-Francois Georges, Dassault Aviation's senior vice-president of civil aircraft.

Georges believes that an aircraft's range is not as important as a reduction in travel time. "What counts is to reduce the time spent travelling-so we believe that supersonic may be the logical next step," he says. The company will start discussions with long-range business-aircraft operators by the end of the year, to discuss maintenance and technical issues and is looking at courting a North American partner in a possible risk-sharing venture.

"If the results are encouraging, the next steps will be to refine our preliminary-design concepts and again consult with customers for consideration and feedback," adds Georges. Dassault says that it does not have any preliminary designs for the aircraft, but confirms that the Falcon SST will have three non-afterburning engines derived from Western subsonic commercial and military aircraft, and offer a cruise speed of Mach 1.8.

"This is sufficient to obtain the benefits of supersonic cruise without the costly technologies required beyond Mach 2," says Bruno Revellin-Falcoz, Dassault Aviation's vice-president.

According to Dassault, the Falcon SST is likely to have a cabin similar in size to the Falcon 50. The aircraft will be capable of flying between Paris and New York in around 3.5h. The company concedes, however, that it is likely to face obstacles, with problems of ozone depletion and sonic booms over populated areas, having to be addressed.

"Modern designs can attenuate sonic booms so they do not remain a technical issue, but the subject might remain a political hot potato," says Georges.

According to Gulfstream, if a market exists for such a product, they will be taking a keen interest. "We listen closely to our customers and we are staying in touch with technology-if there is a market, we will be there in our customary position" says Gulfstream president, Bill Boisture.

Dassault has also announced plans to enter the fractional-ownership market. Although the company has declined to release any details, it has confirmed that it will sell Falcon business jets to existing programmes. The French company revealed the move while predicting healthy aircraft sales for the year. It claims that sales for the first nine months have already topped $1 billion.

Source: Flight International