Business Jet Market Update

Buyers' Guide » 2009
Cessna has suspended development of the Citation Columbus, but its other new
Saturday, August 1, 2009 - 5:00am

While the recession has certainly affected business jet manufacturers, only one aircraft program has been suspended so far: Cessna's large-cabin Citation Columbus. Honda Aircraft has added a one-year delay to its HondaJet project and the Cirrus Vision and Diamond D-Jet single-engine jets will enter service later than expected, but other new aircraft planned by Cessna, Embraer, Gulfstream, Hawker Beechcraft and Spectrum Aeronautical are moving toward certification.

Cessna launched the Columbus program last January, outlining plans for the company's largest business jet, one capable of carrying eight passengers 4,000 nautical miles at Mach .80. A unique Columbus feature was a lower cabin altitude than business jets typically offer, providing a more comfortable environment pressurized to 6,700 feet when flying at 45,000 feet. About 300 employees were working on the Columbus program when Cessna suspended it; a few remain to make sure that the work done thus far is preserved in case the manufacturer decides to restart the project.

Cessna's other new jet, the Citation CJ4, remains on track to enter service in 2010. In May, Cessna announced mating of the fuselage and wing on CJ4 Serial Number 003, the first to be produced on the company's new CJ4 assembly line. The $8 million airplane will fly 1,825 nautical miles and can cruise at up to 435 knots.

Embraer is moving ahead with three new airplane programs, rapidly catching up to Cessna as a manufacturer of a full line of business jets. Embraer's $6.65 million Phenom 300 light jet should achieve FAA certification by the end of this year. Then in 2012 and 2013, respectively, the company's midsize Legacy 450 ($15.25 million) and 500 ($18.4 million) should be certified and enter service. The slightly longer 500 will offer range of 3,000 nautical miles, compared with 2,300 for the Model 450.

Honda Aircraft has not been immune to the effects of the recession and has announced delays for the first flight of its next prototype for the $3.9 million HondaJet and the projected first customer delivery date. The second prototype was expected to have flown by now, but that has been shifted to January. The first customer delivery is now scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2011, at least a year later than originally planned. Honda Aircraft blamed "global aerospace industry business challenges," which "resulted in a delay in receiving critical components for conforming aircraft production." A consolation for HondaJet buyers is that the manufacturer has suspended progress payments during the delay period.

Spectrum Aeronautical is moving ahead with its all-composite $6.795 million S.40 Freedom twinjet, but first flight of the next prototype will now likely shift to early next year, followed by FAA certification 12 to 18 months later. Previously, Spectrum announced that deliveries would begin in 2010. The S.40 will seat nine passengers in a stand-up cabin. Cruise speed is 435 knots and range is 2,030 nautical miles.

The airframe of Bombardier's Learjet 85 will also be made almost entirely of composite materials, and this program remains on track for deliveries beginning in 2013. Bombardier said it has nearly 60 orders for the $17.2 million Learjet 85, which can seat 10 passengers, cruise at 470 knots and fly 3,000 nautical miles carrying four passengers.

A New Speed Champion?

Gulfstream is moving forward on schedule with its two new jet programs, the midsize G250 and the large-cabin G650. Both jets should achieve first flight this year. The $50+ million G650 will be Gulfstream's largest airplane, with 28 percent greater cabin volume than the G550, 16 percent larger windows and what is likely the lowest-ever cabin altitude for a business jet, 4,850 feet at the jet's maximum altitude of 51,000 feet. Gulfstream says the G650 will also be the world's fastest business jet, with a top speed of Mach 0.925, a few knots faster than the current holder of that title, Cessna's Citation X. The manufacturer expects certification of the G650 in 2011.

At the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva in May, Cessna Aircraft chairman, CEO and president Jack Pelton vowed to retain Cessna's title as manufacturer of the fastest business jet. "If the G650 is certified to 0.925," he said, "we will be sure it goes back to number two." Pelton didn't indicate whether Cessna might achieve that goal by adding speed to the Citation X or by designing and building an entirely new airplane.

Gulfstream expects the $24 million G250 to be certified and enter service in 2011. Performance specifications include 3,400-nautical-mile range at Mach 0.80 and maximum altitude of 45,000 feet.

Hawker Beechcraft's three new programs--the Premier II, Hawker 450XP and turboprop Super King Air 350i--are all on schedule. At the EBACE show, Hawker Beechcraft was the only company that held a contract-signing event, announcing an order by Jordan-based RayaJet for a Premier II. The $7.365 million twinjet is an upgraded version of the Premier IA and offers an extra 300 nautical miles of range without upping the fuel capacity, 15 knots additional cruise speed (to 465 knots) and another 530 pounds of payload. Certification and entry into service are expected in 2010. The $7.695 million 450XP, an upgrade of the 400XP, is also scheduled to begin delivery in 2010. New, more efficient engines will boost long-range cruise speed to 421 knots and range by 9 percent to more than 1,600 nautical miles with four passengers.

While manufacturers announced no new aircraft at  EBACE, Daher-Socata president and CEO Patrick Daher did say his company expects to launch a new eight- to 10-seat twin-engine turboprop or jet during the next year or so. The company is seeking financial and/or industrial partners for the aircraft, which it has tentatively named NTx.

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