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OPINION: Why business jet makers are turning to the military

Spare a thought for the small handful of large-cabin business jet manufacturers, because times have been pretty tough of late, with sales taking a tumble.

Bombardier has cut production of its Global series, Dassault’s Falcon family has seen deliveries dip and even Gulfstream experienced a flat 2015. Previously emerging markets Brazil, China and Russia are fading, and the companies must hope that a new raft of designs will emerge at the start of – or even inspire – an upturn.

With conditions tough, the manufacturers can draw some comfort from the military; for it is in the special missions area that much-needed sales could emerge.

Frustrated with operating a vintage fleet of Lockheed Martin EC-130H Compass Call aircraft, the US Air Force wants to replace them with a development of Gulfstream’s G550. The service would benefit from lower prices as demand shifts to the airframer’s newer models, and a 10-year procurement plan would offer some production stability; albeit for a small total. The United Arab Emirates has already ordered a pair of Global 6000s to be adapted by Saab for surveillance.

The USAF’s JSTARS Recap programme is another opportunity, and unlike in the past, the latest breed of business jets can match power and cooling demands.

After the success of Beechcraft’s King Air as a surveillance specialist, the business jet sector looks set to take advantage of defence budgets in a time of need.

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