Since Gulfstream introduced the G550 in 2003, it has sold close to 500 of them for two big reasons: range and cabin comfort. Although the larger, faster and slightly longer-legged G650 has replaced the G550 as the manufacturer’s flagship in recent years, the earlier aircraft remains in production and popular. You can pick up a 10-year-old copy for about the same price you’d pay for a new super-midsize bizjet—or sometimes even less.
Considering what the G550 can do, that’s a deal. It can carry eight passengers and a crew of four up to 6,750 nautical miles at Mach 0.8. That’s Tokyo to Palm Beach, Florida nonstop in 12.5 hours, with reserves. Even though the G550 is a large airplane, moreover, it has excellent flexibility. Fast cruise speed is Mach 0.885. A sea-level takeoff and climb to 37,000 feet requires just 18 minutes and only 5,950 feet of runway with a full load—a fairly impressive performance for a jet with a 91,000-pound maximum takeoff weight. A transcontinental fuel load shortens the required runway to a mere 3,500 feet, and at maximum landing weight, the G550 will stop in only 2,770 feet.
The airplane boasts a comfortable passenger cabin that measures more than six feet tall, seven feet wide and 50 feet long. “Standard” configurations offer up to four separate living areas. On the original G550s, cabins are available with forward or aft gourmet galleys, storage credenzas, walk-in baggage areas, dual forward and aft lavatories with flushing vacuum toilets, crew rest areas, conference groupings, executive “club-four” seating areas and divans with berthing tops that convert to sleeping space. The individual seats have slide and swivel motions and footrests, can recline to the full berthing position and can be modified to offer optional full or partial electric functionality. For privacy, you can install cabin dividers with pocket doors.
The cabin maintains a sea-level altitude through 29,000 feet and has a maximum altitude of 6,000 feet. A 100 percent fresh-air system frequently replaces cabin air, eliminating the health risks posed by recycled-air systems. Ample ambient light brightens the cabin through the G550’s 14 large oval signature windows. LED reading and cabin lights reduce eye fatigue. The relatively low cabin altitude, fresh air and lighting combine to create a comfortable environment and minimize jet lag.
The G550 currently has 70 percent of the market share in its category and—as you can see from the chart that accompanies this story—it holds its value better than a key competitor. That’s undoubtedly due largely to the synthesis of technologies in the cabin and cockpit and to Gulfstream’s industry-leading product support.
The Rolls-Royce BR710 engines on the G550 are close to bulletproof and better than 70 percent of all G550s are enrolled in the engine manufacturer’s hourly maintenance program, CorporateCare. Due to the high degree of customization on individual airplanes and the quantum leap in cockpit and cabin technology over the last 10 years, buyers of used G550s often opt for an avionics update and cabin refresh if not a complete gut job. A good time to do this is when the airplane is already down for a major “C check” inspection. (Such inspections become lengthier and more involved as the aircraft ages, with an extensive inspection required after eight years.)
Many independent completion centers can handle the job, but lots of used G550 buyers bring their airplanes back to Gulfstream for updating, often in conjunction with major maintenance events. The resale value of a G550 is still high enough in most cases to merit a substantial refurbishment investment.
The big advantage in taking your G550 back to Gulfstream for interior mods is that you can get most elements of the company’s new Elite interior installed. Elite was the style and technology developed for the G650 that was made available starting in 2011 on new-production G550s and G450s. Last year, Gulfstream began offering it for retrofits on used G550s.
For retrofits, Elite includes most elements of the new wireless Gulfstream Cabin Management System (GCMS) with dual media servers. The GCMS provides digital cabin control through onboard touchscreens, touch switches and passenger control units, or via the passenger’s own wireless device loaded with the GCMS app. It can control lighting, temperature, speakers, video, window shades, the CabinView passenger information system and attendant calls from anywhere aboard the aircraft.
The Elite retrofit also features many of the aesthetic touches found in the G650, including metallic accents; LED lighting throughout the cabin with automatically activated illumination in useful places such as drawers, cabinets and closets; and high-tech-looking galleys with stainless steel-trimmed appliance stacks, simple touch controls, more work surface area and high-gloss paint.
The 27-inch-wide single executive club seats are new and feature telescoping headrests with flexible wings, one-touch full-flat berthing, continuous leg rest and electric lumbar controls with optional heat and massage. Full-powered seats are offered in the forward-facing “command” positions and include single-position memory preset and press-and-hold controls for full upright and full flat recline positions. As in the G650, the Elite divan has been reworked to provide a more comfortable backrest angle pitched at 104 degrees and the seat cushion is closer to the floor. It berths into a 78-by-39-inch sleeping area.
The sidewall tables and the cabin monuments also have the look and functionality of their counterparts aboard the G650. The electrically activated sidewall tables in the club seating grouping are larger and have a stiffer support structure. Spaces on both sides of the credenza opposite the conference group seating area provide a spacious look and, for passengers who choose, a handy place to stash a briefcase or carryon bag.
While the Elite interior is sold as a package, a Gulfstream spokesman stressed that customers would be able to choose from a wide variety of textiles, leathers and finishes to personalize their airplanes. The company declined to provide pricing information, but I suspect retrofitting Elite into a used G550 is about a $2 million to $3 million adventure. A used G550 with Elite is
virtually indistinguishable from a new-production aircraft. It combines classic, modern styling with the latest technology and conveniences.
Customers can also opt for à la carte refurb options, including expanded crew rest areas; private aft compartments with facing divans that convert into a single large bed; and additional stowage closets.
Gulfstream can repaint your aircraft in a color scheme of your choice and most used G550 buyers opt for this. The choices may seem daunting, but the manufacturer makes the process relatively painless for customers visiting its design studios in Appleton, Wisconsin; Dallas; London; Long Beach, California; or Savannah, Georgia. I’ve been to one of these and it really is like being a kid in a candy store. I suspect the only thing that tops the experience is seeing your “recompleted” G550 roll out of the hangar.
Mark Huber is a private pilot with experience in more than 50 aircraft models.