James Wynbrandt

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James Wynbrandt is a pilot and aviation expert, author of Flying High and a contributor to Air & Space and Business Jet Traveler, among others.

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Plane Advantage: New Jet Models Aim to Please CEOs and CFOs

An all-flagship fleet of next-generation business jets coming on the market over the next year or so is setting a course to transform business aviation. New aircraft from Bombardier, Cessna Aircraft, Gulfstream Aerospace and Pilatus Aircraft raise the bar on performance, efficiency, comfort and connectivity for executives on the go, whether flying nonstop to cities halfway around the world or landing on a dirt airstrip astride remote opportunity. Moreover, after several years of relative stasis, these clean-sheet models mark the first in a wave of in-development aircraft nearing their initial delivery dates. They also illustrate the increasing segmentation of the super-midsize, large-cabin and ultra–long-range categories as OEMs compete fiercely for customers in an arena where annual unit sales are measured in the dozens. “Everyone’s eager to seize the high end,” says Richard Aboulafia, vice president, analysis at the aviation consultancy Teal Group, “and what’s new [in these categories] really does redefine that part of the market.” The Coming Fleet When it enters service later this year, the super-midsize Citation Longitude will be the largest and longest-range—a true transcontinental 3,500 nautical miles (nm)—jet that Cessna has produced, and offer the lowest direct operating cost in its category. The combination of performance and economy “allows us to speak to both sides of the C-suite,” says Rob Scholl, senior vice president, sales and marketing at Cessna’s parent company, Textron Aviation. “For the CFO, it’s an efficient use of company resources. For the CEO, it will make people more productive.” Gulfstream’s 5,000-nm G500, though not the biggest or longest-legged of the company’s fleet (the G650/650ER holds that title), builds impressively on its popular G450 predecessor’s performance, and introduces new cockpit technology and cabin environmental comfort levels to business aviation. It will enter service at the end of 2017, a year ahead of schedule—virtually unheard of in aviation—yet “more mature than any product that Gulfstream has ever developed,” says Dan Nale, senior vice president, programs, engineering and test. The Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) Pilatus PC-24, occupying a category that Oscar Schwenk, chairman of the privately owned Swiss company, calls the “super versatile jet,” will open the world’s short, unpaved airstrips to business jet operations while ensuring comfort aboard en route. The multitasking turbine amalgamates the ruggedness of a turboprop, the nimble performance of a light jet and the cabin space of a midsize model. And when Bombardier delivers the first ultra–long-range (7,400 nm) Global 7000 in the second half of 2018, it will be the world’s largest business jet, a “game-changing aircraft that will define a whole new category,” predicts CEO Alain Bellemare. Its four-zone cabin (first in a business jet) offers room to stretch on nonstop flights that can link New York and Shanghai or San Francisco and Sydney. Industry analysts and business aviation users cheer the new entrants. “It’s exciting to see the OEMs investing in their future and pushing their product line offerings to meet anticipated demand,” says Jeff Agur, CEO of aviation consultancy VanAllen. “Whether it be capability, technology, comfort or reliability, when the bar is raised, the consumer wins.” Adds Rolland Vincent of Rolland Vincent Associates, “We are bullish on the role that these new business jets will play in the industry bounceback.” Evaluating the New Jets Most customers judge business jets by three primary criteria: cabin, performance and cost of operation. These aircraft bring new dimensions to all those metrics. Next-gen jet cabins are growing not only bigger and wider, but also more comfortable and capable. The Global 7000 offers a double bed and stand-up shower—both firsts for Bombardier’s Global jet family. Well-equipped galleys allow preparation of gourmet meals in place of re-plated catering, while improved environmental and pressurization systems finely control temperature and humidity and maintain lower cabin altitudes. The G500 will boast business aviation’s lowest cabin altitude—4,875 feet at its 51,000-foot service ceiling—while fresh air is completely replenished every two minutes. (By comparison, airliners are pressurized to about 8,000 feet.) With new foam cushioning materials and electronic control capabilities, cabin seating is another area of OEM focus. The Longitude’s fully berthable seats will be the largest yet in a Citation, allowing passengers to sleep comfortably in flight. Cessna has brought all interior back-shop completion capabilities—seat fabrication, upholstery, leatherwork and cabinetry among them—in-house, to ensure greater control over the quality of its cabins. Even the rough-and-ready PC-24 offers a choice of executive interiors developed with BMW Group’s Designworks, designed for quick change from executive to cargo, medevac or combi configurations. All these jets boast large baggage compartments with in-flight access, another feature in growing demand. The PC-24, however, will be the only business jet with a standard pallet-sized baggage door, for quickly loading and unloading heavy gear—a feature borrowed from the PC-12. No amenity today is more important than connectivity. These jets take advantage of new satellite and terrestrial networks and the OEMs’ proprietary cabin management systems to offer true broadband access to the web, seamless communication via passengers’ own smart devices and virtually limitless entertainment options. The G500 will offer worldwide (polar regions excluded) high-speed Internet access through Inmarsat’s new JetConneX Ka-band satellite network and Honeywell’s JetWave onboard hardware, which support online streaming and videoconferencing. Peak Performance As comfortable as private jets can be, the idea is to spend as little time aboard them as possible. Optimized airframe design, more powerful and efficient engines and digital flight decks combine to imbue these aircraft with faster cruise speeds, lower costs of operation and improved systems over comparable in-service models. The Longitude fuselage uses transonic area rule design, while the Global 7000, powered by new GE Passport 20 engines, incorporates a transonic wing. Both innovations reduce drag as the aircraft approach the speed of sound. That boundary is tantalizingly close to these models. The G500’s top operating speed is Mach 0.925 and high-speed cruise is Mach 0.90, saving a key executive “a week or more [per year] compared to flying on an aircraft that can’t fly at point-nine-oh,” says Gulfstream’s Nale. Meanwhile, the G500 burns almost 25% less fuel than the G450 it replaces, thanks in large part to the efficiency of its Pratt & Whitney Canada PW814GA engines. All four cockpits have advanced digital flight decks with autothrottles and enhanced vision systems. The three larger models also have fly-by-wire controls that modify pilot inputs to optimize aircraft performance. The G500 is the first business jet with active sidestick controls and with a data concentration network, which acts like the aircraft’s central nervous system. The PC-24’s Advanced Cockpit Environment (ACE) avionics suite helps make the aircraft so easy to manage that it is certified for single pilot operations. OEMs have also made these aircraft more reliable and easier to maintain, further reducing the cost of operation. The Longitude, for example, incorporates a LinxUs onboard diagnostic and fault isolation system that provides constant monitoring of aircraft systems, quickly identifying incipient problems and the source of squawks. Inbound Innovation More new business jets are on the way. Later this year Brazil’s Embraer Executive Jets will deliver the updated version of its large cabin Legacy 650, the 650E. Enhancements include a 10-year/10,000 flight-hour warranty—the industry’s longest—restyled seat upholstery and numerous cockpit upgrades. This for an aircraft in a product line whose cabins are already “future proofed,” in Embraer’s words, thanks to interiors designed to be easily removed and remodeled. Both Gulfstream and Bombardier will introduce longer-range follow-on models (G600 and Global 8000, respectively) a year after their predecessors enter service. Cessna now focuses on the Citation Hemisphere, its first large-cabin aircraft, whose maiden flight is expected in 2019. Dassault Falcon’s 5X, which will have the widest and tallest cabin of any business jet (8 feet 6 inches by 6 feet 6 inches), is slated to enter service in 2020. Larger windows and a “de-cluttered” cabin are among updates to the 7X and 8X interiors the Dassault Interior Design Studio plans for the 5,200 nm-range jet. Meanwhile the HA-420 HondaJet, which entered service in late 2015, is shaking up the entry-level category. With its highly efficient, patented Over-the-Wing Engine Mount (OTWEM) configuration, engines developed in a joint venture with GE and advanced cabin features, including electronically dimmable windows, the HondaJet serves as both an exemplar of business aviation’s spirit of innovation and a major automaker’s faith in its future. The question now is how the market will respond to these offerings. Cessna says it’s “excited by order activity” for the Longitude, and Bombardier reports demand for the Global 7000 “is very strong.” Gulfstream doesn’t release order information for its models, but if Pilatus is any indication, the future is bright. The Swiss manufacturer opened its PC-24 order book amidst fanfare at Geneva’s European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition in 2014, and had sold out its first three years of production (84 jets) and halted further sales by the end of the show. The order book reopens this fall at the National Business Aviation Association’s annual trade show.
Designed to Please Gone are the days when a visionary aeronautical designer drew a sketch on a napkin and a new plane was born. Today OEMs largely get their ideas for aircraft from current and prospective customers. When designing the Longitude, with no super-midsize jet of its own Cessna convened an advisory board comprising customers of its competitors, including Bombardier, Gulfstream and Embraer, “to really understand what their expectations were,” says Christi Tannahill, senior vice president of interior design and engineering. Gulfstream harnessed its Advanced Customer Advisory Team, comprised of some three dozen pilots, maintainers and flight attendants employed by a cross-section of Gulfstream owners. The group reviewed G500 program progress and provided feedback on a quarterly basis. Bombardier spent four years researching customers’ needs before unveiling the Global 7000 interior and cockpit layout, and continued gathering feedback from customer-based focus groups throughout its initial production work. Likewise, in developing its STOL twinjet, Pilatus listened closely to customers, whose most common request was for an aircraft as rugged as the PC-12, but with an additional 100 knots of airspeed. The PC-24’s projected 425 ktas (knots true airspeed) gives customers much more than that, and Chairman Oscar Schwenk says the actual top speed “exceeds published performance figures.” But new jets may not achieve all benchmarks an OEM targets. VanAllen’s Jeff Agur advises “early adapters” who buy new models to seek “performance guarantees in the purchase agreement.”
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