A clean sheet of paper can get surprisingly expensive and even risky – especially in the business jet ­sector. Seven clean-sheet designs of aircraft or families have been unveiled since 2007, when Bombardier launched the composite-skinned Learjet 85. That aircraft is now two years behind schedule and faces an uncertain fate, with its entry-into-service date still undefined.

The next two designs, launched in 2008, also met unexpected challenges. Cessna cancelled its Citation Columbus only two years later, as it reeled from the shock of the global financial crisis. It now appears to be going back to the drawing board on the narrower model that replaced it – the Citation Longitude. Embraer also struggled to overcome development snags that delayed its fly-by-wire Legacy 450/500 family, and led to the latter entering service two years late.

It is still too early to judge the health of the Global 7000/8000, but both Bombardier and engine supplier GE Aviation say the project remains on track, despite a six-month delay for first flight of the Passport engine. The Dassault Falcon 5X/8X, Gulfstream G500/600 and Pilatus PC-24 – all unveiled in the last 18 months – are next in line. So ends the great clean-sheet revival, which also included the Gulfstream G650 that launched in 2005, and entered service almost two years late in 2012.

The decade ahead promises less time spent on developing new aircraft from blank pieces of paper. All of the manufacturers seem to have their hands full for at least the next five years simply getting all of these new jet designs into service, along with completing several major derivatives of older offerings.

There are also fewer obvious gaps in the market for the industry to exploit. Since launching the Legacy 450/500, Embraer has displayed its product line-up chart with a single gaping hole in the ultra-long-range segment. Besides that omission, there are few clear spaces in the competitive field. Cessna might attempt to push a step further than the Longitude. Bombardier could plug a possible hole between the Challenger 650 and Global 5000. Gulfstream may try to fill the space between the G280 and G450.

It is more likely that the companies will spend much of their time ramping up production of the clean-sheet models and developing new derivatives, while taking a well-earned breather from extra programmes. For suppliers, now is the time to develop the next wave of technologies for insertion as product improvements.

Source: Flight International