The NBAA convention and exhibition passed on 12 October without answers to the business jet industry’s most burning questions, but clues about the next moves of several busy manufacturers abounded.
The lack of new product announcements and the anemic state of sales activity combine to offer a strong impression of a business aviation industry slogging lazily through an extended period of stagnancy.
But nothing is further from the truth. It is true business jet deliveries have flat-lined between 640-710 units annually since 2011 after recovering from a three-year freefall from 1,120 deliveries in 2008. Still, four of the industry’s five largest manufacturers – with Embraer as the only exception -- have never seemed more active, with seven new business jets combined in development and expected to enter service over the next four years. And that’s not counting announced new offerings from Pilatus and China’s AVIC.
Amid the acknowledged development commitments are hints of still more new product activity that remain undisclosed and range from light turboprops to ultra-long-range large cabin jets.
Pratt & Whitney Canada’s disclosure in a press conference on the eve of NBAA on 9 October illustrates one of the intriguing mysteries across the industry right now. For several years, P&WC has teased interest in developing a new 2,000shp-class turboprop engine. At this event, the company went a step further, saying that component-level demonstrator tests have begun.
The company is on a pace to have a new engine ready within a few years, yet so far there are no declared platforms that can use it. Textron Aviation selected the GE Aviation advanced turboprop for the Cessna Denali. The single-engined Denali poses a formidable competitive challenge to the Pilatus PC-12NG, yet so far the Swiss manufacturer has announced no plans to launch a competitive response. If the P&WC engine finds a home anywhere, however, it would likely be with Pilatus’ response to the Denali.
Similar hints of intrigue could be found in JetCraft’s 10-year forecast of the industry, which was also released on the eve of the NBAA convention.
Although the forecast claims no privileged insight into manufacturers’ future product plans, it reflects the industry’s assumptions about the next major moves by several key players.
For example, Gulfstream currently has no answer for the Bombardier Global 7000, which is scheduled to enter service with a longer cabin and a similar range as the Gulfstream G650ER. So JetCraft anticipates a “G750” from Gulfstream to enter service in 2020, possibly as a new stretch of the G600 scheduled to enter service in 2019. As the third manufacturer of ultra-long-range business jets, Dassault may want to enter the same maket, so JetCraft anticipates a Falcon “9X” model to enter service by 2023.
Gulfstream also stopped production of the super-large G450 with the far more capable G500 on deck to enter service later this year. But that still leaves a yawning gap in Gulfstream models between the super midsize G280 and G500, so JetCraft expects the Savannah-based manufacturer to field a new G400 model by 2023.
Finally, Embraer invested billions over the last decade to field four-clean sheet business jets and two major derivatives of commercial aircraft for the executive jet market, so is currently taking a pause. But JetCraft doesn’t expect the Brazilian company to wait for long. A large cabin Legacy 7000 is projected by JetCraft to enter service in 2023, replacing Embraer’s ERJ135-derived Legacy 650.