It worked last time, but will manufacturer moves to stimulate demand with new products succeed in restarting the stalled business-jet market?

In the tightening grip of a sales drought, business jet manufacturers are sowing the seeds of an eventual recovery. It seems a risky strategy, to invest heavily in the development of new products when revenues from existing aircraft are declining dramatically, but it has worked before for this industry.

Order backlogs built in the late 1990s have helped cushion the impact of the latest downturn, but they are almost exhausted, and manufacturers want to be ready with new and improved products when sales begin to recover.

Bombardier is leading the pack, having launched or unveiled three aircraft already this year: the Global 5000 super-large business jet, the Learjet 40 light jet and the enhanced-performance super-light Learjet 45XR. Its challenger in the super mid-size sector, the Continental, will be certificated later this year and, with an order backlog of 115 aircraft, will begin to make a positive impact on the company's bottom line some time next year.

The Canadian company is not alone. Dassault is close to certificating the Falcon 2000EX large jet and has launched development of the high-speed, long-range Falcon 7X, with deliveries to begin in 2006. Gulfstream's improved GV-SP ultra-long-range jet is also approaching certification, and there is talk of a new mid-size model, the G150. Raytheon is ramping up production of the entry-level Premier I and plans to begin deliveries of the super mid-size Hawker Horizon early in 2004, against a backlog of 150 orders and options.

Cessna's Citation production has risen through the downturn on the strength of backlogs for newer models like the CJ2 light jet and super-light Excel. Flight testing of the mid-size Sovereign is accelerating towards first deliveries in 2004 and the company is poised to announced the next members of the Citation family, including the stretched CJ3 light jet.

Bombardier is better positioned than most when it comes to creating new products during a downturn. The company has developed three all-new business jets in the past five years - the Learjet 45, Global Express and now the Continental - and these provide modern platforms from which other aircraft can be derived at reasonable cost. The Learjet 40, set for certification in 2004, is a shorter-fuselage derivative of the Learjet 45. Similar surgery on the Global Express has produced the Global 5000, also planned for certification in 2004.

Filling a gap

The company did not set out to develop a Global derivative, but to fill a gap in its product line by developing a direct competitor to the Gulfstream IV-SP. Potential operators were offered three possibilities, says Global product manager Marc Bouliane: an all-new aircraft and derivatives of the Global Express and CRJ700 regional jet. A market survey had determined the basic requirements: sufficient range to reach the central USA from continental Europe at Mach 0.85; a cabin large enough to have three zones; a balanced field length of 1,500m (5,000ft) or less; an initial cruise altitude of 41,000ft rising to a maximum of 51,000ft; and a price at launch of less than $35 million.

A new aircraft would have met all the requirements, but would have taken longer to bring to market and involved more cost and risk. "The CRJ700 could do the cabin requirement, and range, but not the other attributes. Speed, balanced field length and time to altitude all fell far short," says Bouliane. "The Global Express could meet the cabin requirement and hit the performance aspects, but was more expensive to derive. So we had two price points." Bombardier surveyed 200 operators and, he says, "there was clear customer preference for a Global Express-based platform".

The Global 5000 is important for Bombardier because it is an undisguised attempt to take customers away from Gulfstream and the market-leading GIV-SP. The Global Express is in head-to-head competition with the ultra-long-range GV, but most customers have upgraded from Bombardier's Challenger large jet and from Falcons. "The Global Express has won the lion's share of customers upgrading from Falcons, and we have sold some Global 5000s to Falcon operators," says Bouliane.

But to achieve Bombardier's goal of winning the dominant share of a super-large business-jet market estimated at 750 aircraft over 10 years, the Global 5000 must win over at least some of Gulfstream's loyal customer base. On paper at least, the aircraft looks to have what it will take.

The Global 5000 has a design range of 8,890km (4,800nm) at M0.85, compared with the GIV-SP's 7,820km at M0.8. Range at M0.88 is  6,850km and the Global derivative will cruise at M0.89, speeds the Gulfstream cannot match. "Operators expressed a desire to get to their destination faster," says Bouliane, noting that Global Express operators typically fly at M0.85-0.87.

Longer range required a larger cabin, and the Global 5000 is just 0.8m shorter than the Global Express. Fuel capacity is reduced by removing the tail tank and limiting wing fuel, but otherwise the two aircraft are essentially identical. The derivative aircraft benefits from the original's 2.11m-wide by 1.91m-high cabin cross-section, and rearrangement of the avionics and water system has resulted in a usable cabin length of almost 13m.   

The Global 5000's balanced field length of 1,525m compares with the GIV-SP's take-off distance of 1,660m. Initial and maximum cruise altitudes will be 43,000ft and 51,000ft, beating the Gulfstream's respective 41,000ft and 45,000ft. And with the first block of aircraft on offer at $32.95 million apiece, compared with the GIV-SP's $32.75 million, the Global 5000 is competitively priced.

Tight tolerances

Conscious that it missed some of its performance goals for the Global Express, but with confidence resulting from the experience, Bombardier has placed tight tolerances on its performance guarantees: ±3.5% on balanced field length and landing distance, ±3% on range and maximum cruise speed and ±1% on maximum empty  weight. "These figures are more aggressive than you would traditionally find, even for a derivative," says Bouliane.

Many of the Global Express's early issues centred on the cabin and on the specification and completion of the interior, leading to delivery delays and performance impacts. "We spent time trying to work out what happened on the Global Express and address it up front," says Bouliane. "When we launched the Global Express we had no interior layout or specifications, just a weight that proved inadequate. We sell the Global 5000 with a full interior specification. Engineering for the interior is taking place at the same time as that for the green aircraft."

The tough lessons learned have been incorporated into the Global 5000. The interior completion allowance has been increased to 3,200kg and some systems, including head-up display, satellite communications, water and waste, will be "repatriated" from the completion centre to the production line to reduce the completion cycle time.

The second test aircraft, scheduled to fly in February, will complete 20h of initial testing at the Toronto final assembly site, then fly to Bombardier's completion centre in Montreal for installation of a full interior, paralleled by bench testing of the water, waste and cabin management/entertainment systems. The aircraft will emerge in the fourth quarter of next year to join the first aircraft at the company's Wichita, Kansas, flight test centre, where it will be used to validate the interior systems, says Bouliane. The second aircraft will then enter service as a demonstrator, six months before the first customer delivery, "allowing us to iron out any issues", he says.

The first aircraft has rolled off the final assembly line and power-on testing is to begin this month. A maiden flight is scheduled for the first quarter of next year, leading to certification in the first quarter of 2004 and entry into service in the fourth quarter. Bombardier has so far secured 11 firm orders for the aircraft.

Likely customers include Challenger operators wanting to move up, but for whom a Global Express at almost $44 million is too big a step. "We expect some potential Global Express customers will buy a Global 5000 instead," Bouliane says. Meanwhile, some Global Express operators have already bought Global 5000s because of the benefits of fleet commonality, which are expected to include a common pilot type rating. "Gulfstream operators will be more challenging, but we believe we have a credible candidate to draw customers away from Falcon and Gulfstream fleets," says Bouliane.

Source: Flight International