After a three-year pandemic-enforced absence, Europe’s premier business aviation show EBACE returned to its home in Geneva in mid-May.
While commercial aviation has yet to return to pre-Covid levels, business aviation has emerged stronger from the downturn as those travellers able to afford the price tag switch to private flying.
In the meantime, the airframers have not stood still, with those at the top of the industry unveiling range-topping new aircraft in the form of the Dassault Falcon 10X and Gulfstream G800. The latter in particular, promising an 8,000nm (14,800km)-range and 2023 service entry, had threatened the segment leadership of the 7,700nm-range Bombardier Global 7500.
Somewhat inevitably, the Canadian manufacturer responded, launching at a lavish EBACE ceremony the long-promised Global 8000.
In addition to a range of 8,000nm, the new jet will have a maximum speed of Mach 0.94 and be capable of carrying 19 passengers.
But there is a twist: it is not the aircraft the Canadian airframer envisaged at the start of the programme. Back when Bombardier first touted the ultra-long-range twinjet, it was planned as a 2.6m (8.5ft) shrink of its 33.8m-long Global 7000 sister that was capable of flying 500nm further, hitting the 7,900nm mark.
However, while the Global 7000 progressed, eventually morphing into the Global 7500, the 8000 remained stuck on the drawing board.
With the changing market, notably the keener competition from Gulfstream, Bombardier needed a response – but in its view, building a jet that could fly only 200nm further than the Global 7500 at the expense of cabin volume, or two passenger seats, was not the right approach.
Instead, it has taken a radical – albeit lower-cost – step: rather than developing an all-new jet it has instead souped up the performance of the Global 7500 to create an aircraft that can cover 8,000nm and fly up to 1.3% faster than the current M0.925 maximum.
Launching the new jet on 23 May, Bombardier chief executive Eric Martel said customers had asked if it would still pursue the Global 8000 “given that the Global 7500 was performing so well – today we are happy to answer”.
The new Global is “two aircraft in one”, he says, providing “everything the Global 7500 has to offer” but with “a level of performance that has never been seen before in business aviation”.
Bombardier has already begun validating the modifications required using its FTV5 flying testbed operating from a site in the USA. And on 18 May 2021 – accompanied by a NASA-operated Boeing F/A-18 fighter – the aircraft was taken past the sound barrier to M1.015, becoming the fastest civil aircraft since Concorde and taking a crucial step towards certificating the new standard.
Service entry for the Global 8000 is anticipated in 2025, says Bombardier. At that point two things will happen – thanks to a service bulletin all Global 7500 owners will be able to convert their jets into the Global 8000, and production of the earlier model will be phased out; list price will also rise from $75 million to $78 million.
“The speed and cabin size will be more than those of the G800 – we have taken a no compromise mentality to how we want to position this aircraft at the top of the pyramid,” says Bombardier.
The Global 8000 will be 33.8m long, with 16.59m of useable cabin space, compared with respective figures of 30.4m and 14.27m for the G800.
“We are doing everything that we wanted to do with the original Global 8000 but with the longer fuselage,” adds Bombardier.
To turn one Global into the other, changes are needed to the control software for the jet’s twin GE Aviation Passport engines and tweaks enabling additional fuel to be carried are required. “We are going to be utilising space and weight savings to be able to carry more fuel to unlock the range potential of the aircraft,” says Bombardier.
A single prototype will be used for the certification campaign, the company says.
Development costs should be relatively modest, says Bombardier, and in line with its previously announced 2025 spending plan, the bulk of the programme investment has already been absorbed during the Global 7500’s genesis.
Of course, it does not take a genius to predict what will happen next given Gulfstream’s history of breaking speed records – it set another city-pair record flying a G700 test aircraft between Savanah and Geneva in the run-up to the show – and it would come as little surprise if the G800 boasts more range and a higher maximum speed at service entry than currently advertised.
Although private aviation may have come out of the pandemic in better shape than other parts of the industry, business aircraft manufacturers are suffering from exactly the same basket of troubles as their commercial colleagues.
Dassault has cited precisely those supply chain pressures for a six-month delay to the service entry of the Falcon 6X, pushing the milestone back to mid-2023.
“I’d like to stress that the Covid epidemic is still active – fortunately not at the crisis levels of before, but strong enough to disrupt business,” says chief executive Eric Trappier.
He notes that “the fast recovery with limited resources of the global economy is creating unprecedented constraints on the supply chain, not only in our industry but across the entire manufacturing sector”.
In addition, the war in Ukraine is “adding disruption” with rising energy prices and raw material shortages. As a consequence, “our anticipated target of year-end 2022 for the entry into service of the 6X is shifting, and is now forecast by mid-year 2023”, he says.
The super-large 5,500nm-range Falcon 6X was launched in 2018, following the company’s cancellation of the troubled 5X programme. To date, three aircraft in the test fleet have logged over 850 flying hours.
Nonetheless, Dassault brought a Falcon 6X to EBACE, parking the fourth test aircraft (F-WZOA) on the static display. Fitted with a fully outfitted cabin, the twinjet was scheduled to embark on a global 40-stop “proving campaign” in June, to ensure the reliability of the aircraft and onboard systems in “real-world operating conditions”.
Completed flight-test activities include cold-soak and high-elevation tests, and the flight envelope has been expanded well beyond the aircraft’s M0.90 maximum operating speed. Flight trials remaining include natural icing and contaminated runway tests, says Dassault.
Meanwhile, production and assembly of the top-of-the-range Falcon 10X is gearing up at sites around Europe and North America, with final assembly of the ultra-wide-body twin to begin next year.
A new production hall at Dassault’s Biarritz plant in southwest France is dedicated to the aircraft’s all-composite wing. The initial example is in final assembly and will be placed in a static test rig in the third quarter.
“We are making excellent progress in getting this new aircraft into production, and the coming months will see an increasing flow of parts, subsystems and large structures into our facilities in the south of France,” says Trappier.
Dassault has not disclosed when the 7,500nm-range 10X will make its maiden sortie, but it is confident the aircraft will enter service as scheduled in 2025.