Business aircraft manufacturers have continued to invest and innovate during the Covid-19 crisis, with launches from Dassault and Gulfstream among the highest-profile announcements. We round up the major programme developments under way.
Airbus has flown and begun to secure customers for the ACJ TwoTwenty, the corporate jet version of the former CSeries unveiled in October 2020.
First flight of the Pratt & Whitney PW1500G-powered variant – the smallest in an ACJ family that extends to the ACJ350 – took place in December last year, and the first example is now being outfitted at launch customer Comlux’s US completions facility. Under an exclusive arrangement with the charter operator, Comlux will install the cabins in the first 15 ACJ TwoTwentys, and has announced Dubai luxury resort group Five as one of the purchasers and operators of the jet.
Meanwhile, earlier this year German charter and management firm K5 Aviation received the first ACJ330-300, the first time the -300 variant of the widebody has been configured as a corporate jet. All other A330s in VIP or government service have been smaller -200s.
Airbus’s commercial airliner rival has traditionally been the more successful of the two when it comes to selling the market’s largest business jets, with versions of its 747 operated by several governments and the 737 BBJ a solid seller for decades.
In 2018 Boeing announced that it would be offering a BBJ version of its new flagship, the 777X, which it said would be the longest-range business jet in the world, able to fly 11,645nm (21,600km).
BBJ versions of the 737 Max 8 and 787-8 were also redelivered to customers last year following cabin completion.
Since becoming a pure-play business aircraft manufacturer last year, following the divestment of its aerostructures, commercial aircraft and rail transport divisions, the Canadian airframer has been focusing on its top-selling brands and opportunities to strengthen its product line further. The decision in February 2021 to shutter production of the Learjet light business jet family has positioned Bombardier at the upper end of the market with its two Challenger and four Global variants.
The move to terminate production of the iconic brand after 60 years – the final Learjet, a 75 Liberty, was delivered on 28 March, from the company’s Wichita facility – has also freed up valuable capital to invest in these more profitable programmes.
Bombardier will be looking to repeat the success of the past four years, during which it certificated and delivered three new versions of its Global family – the 5500, 6500 and 7500 – with the last of these marking its 100th delivery in March to long-standing customer VistaJet.
While the Global family has consumed a large chunk of Bombardier’s research and development spending in recent years, questions remain about the status of the Global 8000. Bombardier launched the 7,900nm-range aircraft in 2010 as a smaller sibling of the 7000, now known as the 7500.
While conceding it has moved away from its original plan of building a shortened 7000 with slightly more range – thanks to the 200nm-range performance increase and rebranding of its sister aircraft – Bombardier has yet to publicly move forward with its development.
Although the Global family has been a core focus for the Canadian manufacturer, Bombardier is also developing the Challenger range. Last year saw the launch of the Challenger 3500, the latest iteration of the 300-series super midsize business jet.
The Challenger 3500 features a host of improvements over the current and second-generation version, the Challenger 350, which it replaces.
These include a revamped galley and modern cabin – complete with features standard on the Global family such as Nuage leather seats. Technical changes to the $26.7 million 3500 include an auto-throttle system and a reduced cabin-altitude pressure. When cruising at 41,000ft, that pressure will be equivalent to 4,850ft – about 2,000ft less than the 350. Bombardier says the change has been made by reinforcing the jet’s baggage-compartment bulkhead.
Bombardier has also updated the Challenger’s entertainment system. The 3500 has voice-control cabin technology that works through an app on personal entertainment devices. The app will allow passengers to control various cabin features – lighting, temperature and audio – by speaking commands.
The 3500’s performance specifications remain unchanged from the 350, which entered service in 2014. Bombardier insists that while manufacturers often focus on the range and speed of their products, customers are largely driven by the quality of the cabin. The 3500 will be a 10-passenger jet powered by twin Honeywell HTF7350 engines, with 3,200nm of range and a top speed of Mach 0.83.
Bombardier says that flight testing and certification activities are running to schedule and deliveries are on track to commence in the second half of the year. Speaking during the company’s recent annual earnings call, Bombardier chief executive Eric Martel said the 3500 had become “a huge success on the sale front… significantly contributing to our team achieving the best order intake in the last eight years”.
A revamp of the Challenger 650 is also on the cards. Bombardier is believed to be considering new avionics and engines – possibly a lower-thrust application of the Rolls-Royce Pearl 15 turbofan – for the $32.4 million large-cabin jet, which was introduced in 2015 as the fifth iteration of the 40-year-old Challenger 600.
French manufacturer Daher in April announced the latest version of its TBM range of single-turboprops. The TBM 960 is the fifth generation of the TBM line, which Daher last updated with the 2019 launch of the TBM 940.
The 960 has a single Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6E-66XT turboprop, a “fully digital e-throttle” and a “digitally controlled cabin”, together with a five-blade Hartzell propeller, linked to the PT6E with a “dual-channel digital engine and propeller electronic control system”. The aircraft has Garmin G3000 avionics and Garmin’s GWX 8000 weather radar – a new feature, according to the airframer.
Daher has already achieved certification for the 960 from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and hopes that US approval will follow shortly.
The company aims to begin delivering the type in the first half of 2022.
It is a busy time for the French airframer, which is working to bring two new high-end business jets to market.
First across the finish line will be the Falcon 6X. The super-large model was launched in 2018, following the company’s cancellation of the troubled 5X programme, and is on track to secure type certification and enter service by year-end. The three-strong flight-test fleet has logged more than 700 flying hours, with one example recently completing extreme weather and endurance testing in Iqaluit, a tundra town in the north of Canada.
A fourth, fully outfitted 6X recently joined the line-up and has embarked on a global tour to “demonstrate the operational maturity of systems”, Dassault says.
Meanwhile, serial number 5 – the first customer aircraft – is undergoing completion at Dassault’s US facility in Little Rock, Arkansas. The 6X’s Pratt & Whitney Canada PW812D engine received Transport Canada certification in December 2021, and European and US validation are expected shortly.
Once in customer production, the 5,500nm-range 6X will have the largest cross-section dimensions of any purpose-built business jet, with a width of 2.28m (7ft 5in) and a cabin height of 1.98m.
After years of speculation, Dassault has also finally made its move into the increasingly crowded ultra-long-range market, launching the Falcon 10X last year to rival the Bombardier Global 7500 and Gulfstream G700. Although the 10X, which is scheduled for use from 2025, will be the last to arrive – the Global 7500 entered service in 2018 and the G700 will follow in late 2022 – Dassault believes a focus on innovation, plus the widest cabin in the category (2.77m compared with 2.44m for the Global 7500 and 2.47m for the G700), will give its new flagship a step-up on its rivals.
Powered by twin Pearl 10X engines – the first Falcon to feature a R-R powerplant – the $75 million 10X will cruise at Mach 0.85, have a top speed of M0.925, and be able to access airports with steep approaches such as London City.
Range is pegged at 7,500nm – matching that of the G700, but 200nm short of the Global 7500 – with a cabin designed for eight passengers in addition to four crew.
Dassault has not disclosed when the 10X will make its maiden sortie, but it is confident the aircraft will enter service as scheduled in 2025. Market response to the twinjet has been positive, Dassault says – reflecting the demand for and desirability of high-end business jets today – and helped to boost order performance for the company significantly in 2021.
After the dissolution of a planned merger of its commercial aviation division with Boeing at the start of the pandemic, Embraer has spent two years reappraising its entire strategy. Although its corporate aviation business was to have stayed out of the merger, the failure of the tie-up has left the Brazilian airframer constrained when it comes to investment funds. Embraer’s attention has also been focused on developing its urban air mobility offshoot, Eve, which has enjoyed some success with early orders.
Although Embraer has not launched new products since revamping its Legacy pairing as the Praetor 500 and 600 and announcing the Phenom 300E in 2018, its products – particularly the light jet – continue to sell well, with the company marking a major add-on order with fractional ownership giant NetJets last year.
Embraer launched the original Pratt & Whitney Canada PW500-powered Phenom 300 in 2009.
The US airframer is experiencing one of the busiest periods in its history with no fewer than three publicly declared business jets in development, bringing its line-up of aircraft models to eight. Of this trio, the G700 is at the most advanced stage of development, with pre-certification flight testing – involving five test aircraft and more than 2,200 flight-test hours – now wrapped up. Gulfstream is proceeding at speed with the final stages of the G700’s validation process and aims to secure type certification and deliver the first units to customers at the end of the year.
The G700 was launched in 2019 as a rival to Bombardier’s top-of-range Global 7500 – which entered service a year earlier and arguably reset the standards of traditional ultra-long-range business jets. Gulfstream says the G700 has the largest cabin in the sector: it is 17.4m long – nearly 1m longer than the 7500 and slightly wider, at 2.44m – and will accommodate a choice of five passenger layouts.
Priced at $78 million, the G700 is equipped with the Honeywell Epic-based Symmetry flightdeck with dual head-up displays, combined vision system, and predictive landing performance system. It is powered by two R-R Pearl 700s, rated at 18,250lb-thrust (81.2kN). It has a maximum cruise speed of Mach 0.9 and, at M0.85, a range of 7,500nm – the same as Gulfstream’s in-service flagship, the G650ER, That model, along with the baseline G650, is set to be replaced eventually by the G800.
Gulfstream’s latest ultra-long-range offering was launched to great fanfare in October 2021 along with a new large-cabin aircraft, the G400.
Scheduled for service entry in 2023, the $72.5 million G800 has the longest range of any currently announced business jet, at 8,000nm (see p58).
To the untrained eye, the G800’s interior and exterior profile are similar to the G650 – including its 16 oval cabin windows – but it borrows many of the elements designed for the G700. They include cabin seats, cabinetry, and lighting, Symmetry flightdeck, head-up display, wing, tail, and Pearl 700 engines. Compared with the G650’s R-R BR725 turbofans, the Pearl 700s are 18% more fuel-efficient, Gulfstream says.
The date of first flight has not been disclosed, but Gulfstream says its two flight-test aircraft have already performed engine runs at its Savannah base. Given its commonality with the G700, many tests can be carried forward and Gulfstream is confident of securing type certification in 2023.
The G400 will follow its sibling into service two years later. This 4,200nm-range large-cabin business jet fills a gap in Gulfstream’s product line left by the G450, which ceased production in 2018. “No one has built a new aircraft in this segment for over 20 years – this is a great opportunity for us,” says Gulfstream.
The G400 has the same fuselage cross-section as its large-cabin, longer-range stablemates, the G500 and G600, but is slightly shorter. It also has 80% parts in common with the pair, including the Symmetry flightdeck and active control sidesticks. It will be powered by a slightly different variant of the 500/600’s PW800 engine – the PW812GA – and is scheduled to make its first flight in early 2023.
Gulfstream says the G400, G500 and G600 will have common pilot type ratings, as will the G700 and G800.
Gulfstream’s drive for product line commonality could result – conceivably as early as this year – in the launch of a new model in the super-midsize space, currently occupied by the $24.5 million G280. Its entry-level product was launched in 2008 as a replacement for the G200, a programme Gulfstream acquired in 2001 from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), where it was known as the Galaxy business jet. IAI remains involved in the programme, assembling the model in Tel Aviv before shipping green aircraft to Gulfstream’s Dallas facility for outfitting.
Gulfstream president Mark Burns has hinted at a new business jet – perhaps dubbed the G300 – but pledged his commitment to G280 production with the introduction of a couple of enhancements available on new models from mid-2023. These include a cabin altitude of 4,800ft – a reduction of 1,200ft compared with the current models – and new exterior LED lights for increased visibility and maintainability. These improvements will be also available for retrofit.
The Japanese-owned company is hoping the success of its HondaJet HA-420 high-performance light jet – which has logged more than 200 deliveries since the first iteration entered service in 2015 – will provide a springboard and a ready customer base for its new concept aircraft, unveiled last October.
Dubbed the HondaJet 2600, the aircraft has a transcontinental range of 2,625nm with a midsize cabin that seats up to 11 occupants. It will have upper-wing-mounted engines, like its smaller stablemate, along with a composite fuselage and a new wing with a 17.3m span. The cabin will be several inches wider than the HA-420 at shoulder and foot level, Honda Aircraft says.
The 2600 is being developed in a similar fashion to the first HondaJet, with its developer presenting the concept for market feedback before deciding to formally launch the programme.
The Swiss company surprised the industry when it took the wraps off its first jet – the PC-24 – almost a decade ago. Since then, Pilatus has had a waiting list of buyers bigger than its production numbers.
Last year the company detailed the aircraft’s first significant update, with a new avionics suite that packs in a host of safety improvements. It says the enhancements are based on customer feedback from more than 50,000h of operation since the type’s service entry in February 2018, and have been devised with avionics supplier Honeywell. They include flight controls that now provide tactile feedback to the crew in both the roll and pitch axes to prevent unintended unusual attitudes, even when the autopilot is not engaged. It can, however, be manually overridden.
In addition, if the aircraft rolls through a bank angle of 51°, roll limit protection will automatically bring that back to 31°. Overspeed protection via the pitch servo adds another layer of safety.
The standard auto-throttle system gains a new speed protection function – automatically engaging the auto-throttle to adjust power, ensuring that the aircraft always remains inside the entire speed envelope across all flight phases.
FADEC software governing the PC-24’s Williams International FJ44-4A engines has also been tweaked to reduce power oscillations in cruise and descent.
The SJ30i test aircraft has logged about 200h since making its first flight in October 2019 but delivery of the high performance business jet is now likely to be from 2024, two years later than planned.
The $8.5 million SJ30i is an updated version of the SJ30-2, which was certificated in 2005 by its former owner, Emivest Aerospace. Four examples were delivered and remain in service.
The FJ44-2A-powered SJ30i features a redesigned, lightweight interior and a bespoke flightdeck – based on the Honeywell Epic 2.0 cockpit – called SyberVision. It has a top speed of 480kt, a range of 2,500nm and an operating ceiling of 49,000ft.
SyberJet is also working on the new standard version of the jet powered by more fuel-efficient, higher-thrust FJ44-3AP-25 turbofans with dual FADEC controls. Scheduled to enter service in the latter half of the decade, the SJ30x will provide a variety of performance benefits including higher cruise speed at altitude, faster climb, more payload, and better hot and high performance, says SyberJet. The aircraft will also feature auto-throttles and single-point refuelling. The San Antonio, Texas-based company says it is taking orders for the $9 million aircraft but will not disclosed the tally.
Textron Aviation – behind the Cessna and Beechcraft brands – remains the biggest player in business aviation in volume terms with a family of six jets and seven turboprops.
Textron’s ambitions to move into the large-cabin segment to compete with the likes of Bombardier’s Challenger 650 and Dassault’s 2000LXS remain on hold following the suspension of the Hemisphere programme in mid-2019, four years after the 4,500nm-range type’s unveiling. That was triggered by the failure of Safran’s Silvercrest engine to deliver as advertised, which also put paid to Dassault’s Falcon 5X and led to its replacement with the 6X.
With no Citation business jet products in development – or publicly declared, at least – Textron’s attention is now focused on upgrading and enhancing its current business jet line-up and bringing its two clean-sheet turboprop programmes – the Denali and SkyCourier – to market.
The twin-engined SkyCourier secured US certification in March following a 2,100h, three-aircraft flight‑test campaign. The SkyCourier can be configured as a cargo or 19-seat passenger aircraft, as well as in a combination passenger/cargo variation. Textron says other configurations are also under evaluation, which could include an executive/VIP model and a special-missions offering.
The delayed Denali single-engined turboprop programme is “progressing well”, Textron says. The first prototype took to the skies in November 2021 and the remaining two test aircraft will join the flight-test campaign shortly.
When the high-performance aircraft was unveiled in 2015, it was pegged to fly in 2019, with type certification about 18 months later. However, delays to the development of the 1,300shp (970kW) GE Aviation FADEC-equipped Catalyst engine has had a knock-on effect on the Denali’s timeline. Textron is now targeting certification in 2023. Although it was launched as a Cessna aircraft, Textron decided in July 2021 to “realign” its turboprop offering, bringing the aircraft under the Beechcraft banner alongside the King Air family. The $6.3 million Denali is projected to have a cruise speed of 285kt and a range of 1,600nm.
Two of Cessna’s Citation jets – the M2 and XLS+ – are undergoing a cabin makeover as a part of Cessna’s Gen 2 ramp and rebrand programme, which began last year with its top-end light jet, the CJ4. Textron says it introduced the Gen 2 programme following demand from its customers for a modern, fresh interior. Improvements in the M2 Gen 2 include extended legroom for the co-pilot, side seats that fold down for storage, new cabin accent lighting, redesigned seating and cabin sidewalls, as well as optional wood-type flooring, wireless charging stations and new interior colours. First deliveries of the refreshed jet are imminent. Textron says the M2, introduced in 2013, “has become one of our most popular light jets with more than 300 of the type delivered to date”.
The upgraded XLS Gen 2 features a new and improved airstair, new refreshment centre with high‑power outlet, new seating, lighting and sound system, along with wireless chargers.