Future Falcon
As part of Europe's Clean Sky initiative, Dassault is researching and developing a more-electric architecture for a Falcon business jet that could enter service between 2020 to 2025. The company is also looking at other technologies for future Falcons under Clean Sky, including this tail configuration, which aims to reduce engine noise perceived outside the aircraft. (Image: Dassault)

The Next Big Things

Major business aviation manufacturers had their flagship ultra-long-range, purpose-built business jets (Bombardier’s Global 7500, Gulfstream's G650ER, and Dassault’s Falcon 8X) on display recently at the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE), stoking speculation about what comes next.

When Gulfstream’s flagship G650 entered service in December 2012, the Savannah, Georgia airframer decisively seized the title as producer of the largest dedicated business jet. That statement was reinforced when the 7,500-nautical-mile-range G650ER variant joined its lineup two years later. It held that title until December, when Bombardier delivered the first new top end of its Global family, the four-zone Global 7500. “Gulfstream opened the ultra-long-range segment in general with the G650 but, yes, Bombardier is the leader in the true four-zone cabin environment,” said Chad Anderson, president of aircraft brokerage Jetcraft.

In November, when asked about how his company would respond to the pending arrival of its new competition, Gulfstream president Mark Burns stated, “Gulfstream has no intention to relinquish control of the market we created with the G650/G650ER.”

But during the company’s press conference at EBACE, he was slightly more circumspect. “The good thing about the strength that we have and the commitment that our parent [General Dynamics] has is we are able to invest in the future,” he said, responding to a question from BJT regarding any follow-on models. “The airplanes that we have now I believe make us very competitive. [The] G500, G600, G650 give us a very competitive large-cabin base to build from, but we certainly want to think about the future as well. Will there be airplanes after the G500 and G600? Yes.”

Yet, the industry is rife with speculation that the Savannah airframer will soon be moving to regain the largest-business-jet crown from its Canadian counterpart. “I think it's perfectly logical that Gulfstream is going to answer the 7500 with its own true four-zone cabin answer to the 7500 because the worldwide market intelligence suggests that the design and mission of our clients will demand it furthermore,” Anderson told BJT. “We do think there is space in that segment, and I think you will hear an announcement shortly.”

Others, such as veteran industry analyst Rolland Vincent, suspect the airframer could be readying another surprise as it did with the simultaneous announcement and rollout of the G500 back in 2014. “We think they’ve already made engine selection, we think the thing is being built, actually,” Vincent told BJT at EBACE. Vincent, who is president of Rolland Vincent Associates, added that he believes the mystery twinjet informally referred to by the industry as the “G700” will be a direct competitor to Bombardier's 7500.

In a recent report, Citi Aerospace & Defense North America speculated that a potential G650 derivative could have a larger fuselage, new engines, an updated cockpit, and possibly a new wing, to avoid cannibalizing the current G650 market. But taking the path of a derivative would also ensure a quick road to service entry, it explained.

Dassault has also said its next business jet is under development. Heading off inquiries about the mystery ship at the top of his EBACE media briefing, Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier said he wouldn’t answer questions about the program.

As part of the EU's Clean Sky initiative, the French airframer has been conducting R&D work toward a more electric Falcon using fewer hydraulics and less engine bleed air than it previously said could enter service in the 2020-to-2025 time frame. But its engineers have noted that reliability of electric systems pose a challenge, with the needed one-failure-per-10,000-flight-hours rate being somewhere between 10 and 100 times better than current technology allows.

“We call the new Falcon model the 9X,” Vincent said. “We think it’s a big twin, not a three-engine airplane, and it’s going to use the 6X cross-section. It will compete right at the top of the market against the Global 7500 and against the new Gulfstream.”

Said Anderson, “It has to be Dassault’s answer to both Gulfstream and Bombardier in that true, ultra-long-range segment.” He speculated that its introduction “is probably within 18 to 24 months.”

Bombardier was almost as mum about its already introduced but undefined Global 8000, its planned longer-range sibling of the 7500. The Canadian manufacturer declined to provide any update at EBACE, stating, “We continue to focus on the Global 7500 ramp up,” and insisting the model remains “a program of record.”

The two new Global platforms were announced simultaneously in October 2010, with the then-Global 7000 slated to be the first to enter service. Its Global 8000 was to offer a 7,900-nautical-mile range, achieved by shortening the cabin almost eight feet, eliminating the four-zone layout that was a primary selling point for the 7000.

However, a shortened airframe would mean that even providing an adequate rest area for additional crewmembers required for full-range missions would be challenging. With the rebranding from Global 7000 to the 7500, and its concomitant range increase to 7,700 nautical miles, announced at last year’s EBACE, the Model 8000 as originally envisioned would seem even more tenuous.

In late 2017, Bombardier Business Aircraft president David Coleal acknowledged that orders for the longer-range version accounted for “a very, very small percentage of our backlog,” saying his company would “determine the right schedule for the 8000," which would likely follow its sibling’s entry into service.

“I don’t think the 8000 is a real program,” said Vincent. “There is no one I’ve heard that is looking to buy it. I think the market is enamored with the 7500, so the best way they can go forward is to just get the [production] rates up on the 7500 and don’t confuse the market by offering something else again. They’ve got a hell of an airplane there—just sell that one.”

But according to reports from the Global 8000 design team this year, work is continuing on the program. And in its current five-year business aviation market forecast, Jetcraft still lists the Global 8000 as “in development.”

Industry experts believe there will be room at the top of the mountain for whoever is willing and capable to climb it. “In our forecast, you will see specifically that we talked to the long range and ultra long range being the weather vane of our market going forward,” explained Anderson. “If you look at the number of units we’re forecasting, we’re going to be relatively level across the manufacturers. We’re not forecasting a large increase of new product unit count, but the growth of our industry over the next five years is going to be heavily driven in terms of new deliveries on that large-cabin and ultra-long-range segment.”

At some point in the battle for range supremacy, likely soon, such jets will be capable of traveling halfway around the earth, and the need for reaching longer distances will cease. Supersonic long-range business jets, anyone?