““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Introduced in 1977, the hawker 700 has endured thanks to its durability, spacious stand-up cabin and bargain prices. You can pick one up on the used market for as little as $1 million. spend a little extra on paint, a new interior, a cockpit makeover and a maintenance service plan, and your airplane will be hard to distinguish from a brand-new Hawker 900XP selling for $14 million.
The midsize British aerospace Hawker 700A sort of reminds me of legendary NFL quarterback Brett Favre. It's rugged, dependable, old, getting a little slow compared with the new guys, costs a little too much to keep around, needs minor surgery from time to time and isn't really cost-effective to program with new plays. Plus, people keep talking about retiring it. But against all odds, the 700 always seems to have another season left in it, albeit sometimes for a different team.
The Hawker 700 is unquestionably a workhorse, but when it comes to ramp presence, well, let's just say that it's aesthetically challenged. The windshield looks as if it was stolen from a 1950s turboprop. (OK, more like a 1930s DC-3.) "It's so ugly that only a mother could love it," said Rick Engles, a Hawker 700 expert who worked for British Aerospace's Corporate Jet Division between 1976 and 1993 and is now president of Vance & Engles Aircraft Brokers in Maryland. Engles said three factors explain why the 215 Hawker 700s produced between 1977 and 1984 remain popular: "cabin, cabin and cabin."
The Hawker 700's passenger compartment is bigger than that of competitive airplanes, such as the Learjet 55 and Citation III. It seats up to eight (plus the two pilots up front) and is 21 feet long, six feet wide and almost six feet tall. The standard cabin layout features five single slide-swivel-reclining executive seats and a three-place side-facing divan. You'll also find small forward and aft closets, a minimalist forward galley and an aft lavatory through which you access the baggage hold. (Legally you can put a ninth passenger on the belted potty-perhaps a passenger you really dislike.) While the 604-cubic-foot cabin is spacious, the baggage compartment, at 40 cubic feet, is woefully inadequate for today's take-it-all-with-me jet set.
The Hawker 700 can fly almost 2,000 nautical miles with seats full. Available payload with full fuel is 1,350 pounds. Hawkers have been around since 1962 and perhaps no business jet has a longer history of evolutionary performance improvement. Over the years, the aircraft has received significant upgrades in airfoils, engines and systems. Today it remains one of the best-selling business airplanes of all time, with more than 1,000 produced across all models. The Hawker's rugged and simple systems have created an enduring market for the line.
Engles and everyone else interviewed for this article also attested to the 700's build quality. "It's a rugged airplane that holds up very well," said Greg McCurley, vice president of the Hawker resale team for Hawker Beechcraft. (Raytheon bought British Aerospace's corporate jet division in 1993. In 2006 Raytheon sold its aircraft division to an investor consortium that renamed the company Hawker Beechcraft to reflect its two main product lines.) McCurley doesn't have to say nice things about the Hawker 700-Hawker Beechcraft rarely takes one in on trade these days, even though an estimated 30 percent are on the used market.
"We don't see a lot of maintenance on them" compared with similar aircraft, added Rick Brainard, vice president of West Star Aviation, one of the country's largest maintenance and modification centers. However, because the Hawker is still in production, when you need airframe parts it generally isn't a problem. The more modern 800 and 900 series Hawkers have different wings, windshields, avionics and engines, but a lot of other parts are basically unchanged from the 700.
There are other reasons why the 700 remains popular. Unlike some vintage business jets, Hawker 700s can satisfy Stage III anti-noise requirements without costly modification, thanks to their Honeywell TFE731-3RH turbofan engines (3,720 pounds of thrust each, together burning 263 gallons of fuel per hour at cruise altitude). The 731 engine is fairly ubiquitous. Parts are plentiful and most shops know how to work on them. Engines must be overhauled at 4,000 hours and the average cost is $250,000 each. Not great, but not awful. Most Hawker 700 engines are covered under some sort of an hourly cost maintenance service plan. This levels out maintenance costs and takes the bite out of "big hit" events.
THEN THERE IS THE PURCHASE PRICE. You can buy a good 1984 700A with less than 10,000 hours on the airframe for as little as $1.5 million (average $1.7 million), a real bargain when you consider that a new Hawker 900XP runs $14.3 million and even a late 1980s vintage Hawker 800 can cost $4 million. Of course, those airplanes have more modern systems, better cabin ergonomics and more range, and fly slightly faster. But you can purchase older 700s-say, a 1977 model-for as little as $1 million.
While 700s may be cheap to get into, they aren't necessarily inexpensive to maintain. They require more frequent inspections than newer models. An average 48-month inspection runs $175,000. More thorough inspections-a 12-year structural inspection with X-rays, for example-can cost $400,000. Many of the 700s currently on the market are based in countries where, to be blunt, aircraft maintenance is sometimes more of an elective pursuit. By and large, those will be the 700B models. The only difference between a 700A and a 700B is the certification paperwork, according to Martin Tuck, technical marketing manager for Hawker Beechcraft.
All 700s were built in the United Kingdom. The 700As were flown to the U.S. or Canada to be painted and have their interiors completed. The 700Bs, for the most part, were sold elsewhere and have a non-U.S. certification basis; they can fly at 43,000 feet, while 700As are limited to 41,000 feet. This gives the B models slightly more range, because the higher you go, the less fuel you burn. However, because of the certification paperwork, buying a B outside the U.S. and then getting it into the country can be a bureaucratic nightmare unless you're working with an experienced broker.
There are a few other items to consider with this airplane. Engine thrust reversers were optional on the 700 and are generally unnecessary. The 700 slows down plenty fast by using its "lift-dump" system alone. It "lifts" the wing spoilers and "dumps" the flaps down to 75 degrees after touchdown, creating ample aerodynamic drag that slows the airplane down in a hurry. Reversers add weight, cut climb and cruise speed, and increase maintenance expense.
While you can buy a plethora of things to modernize the cockpit and cabin, the airplane's price point dissuades most owners from diving into big-ticket items, lest they become financially "upside down" in the aircraft. Mid-Canada Mod Center offers a spiffy glass cockpit conversion, but it costs an average of $600,000. Completely gutting the cabin and replacing it with a more modern-looking interior can easily run $700,000.
Some upgrades may be cost-effective and sensible, however, depending on how you use the airplane, according to Ron Jennings, director of completion sales at Elliott Aviation in Moline, Ill. They include recovering the interior and replacing the veneer ($200,000), installing an in-flight entertainment system ($40,000 to $90,000) and replacing harsh fluorescent cabin lighting with new LED technology ($40,000 to $50,000).
Rick Brainard said West Star can repaint a 700 for around $60,000.
Wearing a different color can help an old veteran stick around a bit longer. Just ask Brett Favre.