Dassault Falcon 900DX
Almost 30 years after it first entered service, the Dassault Falcon 900 series remains in a class by itself; from its three-engine layout to its advanced computer design to its construction using lightweight alloys and composites, it is truly peerless.
Over the years via multiple variants, Dassault has made many improvements to the aircraft’s range, avionics, and engine power, but the guts of the airplane and its value proposition remain largely unchanged: the trijet design lets you go where twinjets cannot and the lightweight construction means you often burn less fuel while doing so.
With the 900, you travel in comfort and you travel in style. Ample natural lighting enters the cabin through 24 windows and the fuselage is pressurized to maintain a sea-level cabin through 25,000 feet, beating back jet lag. My only criticisms of the cabin concern the smallish size of those windows and the height of the seat bases, which are a little short for tall folks.
A typical cabin layout features passenger seating for 11 to 14. The standup 74-inch-tall, flat-floor cabin yields 1,264 cubic feet of space and is 92 inches wide from the centerline. The optional forward crew lavatory cuts down on galley space but is a must-have for longer missions. The galley offers hot and cold running water, a convection/microwave oven, an ice drawer, and stowage and can be outfitted with all manner of custom coffee/espresso makers. Eliminating a forward closet can clear the way for an optional third crew seat.
Typical cabin layouts include a forward club-four grouping followed by four smaller seats arrayed around a hi-lo conference table opposite a credenza. Behind that is room for more single seats or a pair of three-place divans. You can close off this aft part of the cabin with a solid pocket door, creating a private suite. Behind this space you’ll find the generously sized aft lavatory with another small wardrobe closet and in-flight, walk-through access to the heated 127-cubic-foot baggage compartment, which can double as a makeshift dressing room. The external baggage door incorporates a step for easy loading.
In 2005, Dassault began delivery of the $31.95 million Falcon 900DX, which has a 4,100-nautical-mile-range (eight passengers with IFR reserves). The airframer designed the DX to replace the Falcon 900C in its lineup and to fill the market niche between its twinjet Falcon 2000EX and its $34.95 million, 4,500-nautical-mile range Falcon 900EX trijet. The DX features the same improved Honeywell TFE731-60 turbofans (5,000 pounds of thrust each) and advanced EASy avionics that are on the more expensive EX but does not have the EX’s centerline fuel tanks for extra range. Even so, the DX is capable of missions such as Geneva to Detroit; New York to Athens, Greece; and Caracas, Venezuela to Paris.
Thanks to the improved Dash 60 engines, moreover, the DX is demonstrably more fuel-efficient than the 900C and has lower operating costs. It also has a quieter cabin and outperforms the 900C in almost every parameter: time to climb to 39,000 feet is 18 minutes in the DX versus 23 in the C, for example, and balanced field length is 4,890 feet in the DX versus 4,935 in the C. The DX also offers better high-and-hot performance: with takeoff from Aspen, Colorado on a 77 degree F day, the range in a DX is 3,560 nautical miles versus 2,785 in a C. Besides the new engines and avionics, the DX features a variety of system upgrades, including a new cabin-pressurization system, brake-by-wire, and new fuel-metering and oxygen systems.
A 10-year-old DX in good condition sells for about $13 million, just slightly more than the $12.5 million you’d typically pay for the same year’s Gulfstream G450, according to the online aircraft valuation service Vref. However, the DX costs fully $4 million less than the market value of the same vintage 900EX, whose 400 nautical miles of additional range come with a significant price premium. By way of perspective, a new Falcon 900LX, with a range of 4,750 nautical miles, retails for $43.8 million.
Because of its newer engines and avionics, the DX is a great value. However, if the EASy avionics have not been upgraded to the EASy II system, you’ll need to do that to comply with the latest FAA digital air-traffic-control mandates. The job can easily cost up to $1.3 million and will require pilot training at CAE or FlightSafety International.
The full EASy II system includes features such as controller-pilot datalink communications (which allows air-traffic controllers and pilots to easily exchange written messages, clearances, and data, thereby reducing mistakes and misunderstandings), Honeywell’s SmartRunway runway awareness advisory system (which depicts and warns of threats), and a takeoff-and-go-around mode to reduce pilot workload.
Optional features include the SmartView synthetic vision system with head-up display symbology; and dual Jeppesen navigational and procedure charts and XM graphical weather, which significantly improve pilot situational awareness. And, in the case of cabin-pressurization-system failure, the autopilot engages an automatic descent mode that takes the aircraft to a safe altitude. EASy II enables precision wide area augmentation system/localizer performance with vertical guidance approaches down to 200-foot-ceiling minimums; and the ADS-B out feature, which gives air-traffic control the ability to provide your pilots with more direct routing and continuous descents, saving you time and fuel.
The comprehensive “C-Check” inspection is a good time to do an EASy II upgrade or any other major modification to your DX, such as revamping the interior or adding winglets. Popular interior upgrades include LED cabin lighting, acoustic sound-dampening blankets, and Wi-Fi. New single executive seats, available for retrofit, can be reclined to lie flat, in full-berthing positions. Blended winglets from Aviation Partners cost approximately $750,000 and take four weeks to install, but increase range up to 5 percent at high-speed cruise and 7 percent at long-range cruise speeds. They also enable a faster climb to cruise altitude so you burn less fuel in the process.
Remember, a 900 must undergo a C-Check every six years or 3,750 flight cycles (one takeoff or one landing constitutes a cycle), whichever comes first. The average C-Check lasts 20 to 32 days and runs anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000, depending on what needs to be repaired.
The good news is that Dassault’s product support continues its upward trajectory, as measured by an annual survey in our sister publication Aviation International News. Last year, the manufacturer ranked second for product support, tied with Embraer, and its technical representatives and authorized service centers ranked best in the industry. The airframer also scored high in parts availability, seemingly confirming the company’s claim of a 98.5 percent parts-availability rate.
The 900DX is a great airplane, and now it has the product support to match. If you need a large-cabin jet with real transatlantic range, and with the ability to get in and out of tight spots, put this one at the top of your list of candidates.