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Commercial off-the-shelf business jets

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Today’s highly competitive business jet market includes a mix of new models featuring greater capabilities and preowned aircraft offering repurposed interior designs and equipage.


By Don Van Dyke
ATP/Helo/CFII, F28, Bell 222.
Pro Pilot Canadian Technical Editor

Gulfstream G800 features a theoretical 8000-nm max range at M 0.85 with NBAA IFR reserves, or 7000 nm at M 0.90. It accommodates up to 19 pax seated (10 sleeping). Cabin designs offer up to 3 living areas with crew compartment (4 living areas without it). It has Honeywell Epic Symmetry avionics with active control sidesticks, Rolls-Royce Pearl 700 turbofans, and a common pilot type rating shared with the Gulfstream G700.

Business jets provide robust, cost-effective, efficient flights over mid-range to intercontinental routes with safe access to regions often too remote, undeveloped, or irregular for other types of air transport access.

Rising demand for business aviation, driven initially by cutbacks in commercial flights during the pandemic, is expected to continue, with passengers realizing the benefits of enhanced privacy, higher hygiene levels, direct routes, and tailored operating schedules.

Evolving passenger attitudes and preferences have inspired a new era of aircraft design. Materials development, seat design, and advances in avionics, microelectronics, and software, are converging to offer business jet passengers impressive cabin comfort and control, amenities, and connectivity.

Although commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) business jets are usually employed “out of the box,” they are frequently modified to meet business requirements and integration into existing organizational systems.

The COTS market also includes pre-owned business jets available to satisfy budget constraints, mission requirements, and aesthetic needs at acquisition costs significantly lower than those of new aircraft. The pre-owned market also helps to mitigate supply chain issues that affect new aircraft production.

Cabin comfort

A historic concern related to business jet cabins is seat comfort, especially as aircraft range and endurance have increased in recent years.

Fortunately, great progress in accommodating passenger ergonomics is now evident. The architecture of Bombardier’s revolutionary Nuage seat provides a tilt link system for a deep recline, a unique floating base with a trackless footprint and permanently centered swivel axis, and a tilting headrest for optimal neck support in any position. Gulfstream has also addressed the historical issue of seat comfort.

While the seats on the G650 are more than adequate, the manufacturer has enhanced those on the G700 to cope with passenger ergonomics on long flights. New styling, articulating back panels, recessed controls, accent lighting, and a menu of cover fabrics, materials, and pattern choices are now available.

Business jets and climate change

The devastating effects of climate change on the human condition are recognized and considered among governments, commerce, and the general public. The goal of business aviation is to contribute to the economy while meeting environmental goals.

Its sustainability rests on 3 pillars – society, economics, and environment, the latter being the most notable, especially when considering requirements regarding CO2 emissions, noise pollution, runoff, etc. The 2021 United Nations Conference of the Parties 26 (COP 26) on climate change concluded with agreement among 196 signatory countries to limit global temperature increase this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

The aviation industry, including business aviation, committed to achieve this target in support of the earlier Paris Agreement’s goal of 1.5°. Long-term aspirational environmental goals for aviation will be a central focus of the ICAO Assembly later this year. The keys to achieving these goals are breakthrough engine technology, vision, and leadership.

Pilatus PC-24 medium-light jet offers a stylish cabin design that seats up to 10 pax with generous under-seat stowage and individual lighting. A 90 cu ft internal baggage compartment can hold up to 1000 lb. The aircraft has a range of 2013 nm at 385 KTAS. Price is $11.3 million.

Propulsion

Innovations to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and to promote improved propulsion must converge with regulatory flexibility to lower operating costs and meet mandatory environmental standards for business aircraft.

Today’s greatest source of business aviation propulsion is the venerable family of Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) powerplants. Rolls-Royce Pearl 700 engines powering the Gulfstream G700 are improved derivatives of the BR725 on the G650, providing 8.0% greater thrust and consuming 3.5% less fuel while meeting or exceeding international standards for noise and nitrous-oxide (NOx) emissions.

The GE Catalyst is the core of a hybrid-electric propulsion (HEP) system for the XTI TriFan 600 currently under development. It may herald a long but viable path to developing a hybrid-electric jet engine.

Hybrid-electric technologies are highly compatible with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and hydrogen, as well as advanced engine architectures such as the open fan.

This technology, although promising, is not yet sufficiently mature for broader aeronautical application. The goals of a NASA project are based on current short-range and regional aircraft power demands, which roughly correlate with requiring a 2-MW engine for takeoff and climb, reducing to 1 MW for cruise and descent.

Another innovative propulsion strategy with potential use in future business jets is outlined in an agreement concluded by powerplant developer Zero Avia with United Airlines to retrofit its fleet of Bombardier CRJ550 aircraft with up to 100 ZA2000-RJ 2 MW+ hydrogen-electric engines by 2028, essentially converting the jets to zero-emission 50-seat electric props.

PC-24 cabin.

Avionics

In the process of acquiring new or pre-owned COTS business jets, an audit of flight deck and cabin avionics equipage is critically important, both to determine their capabilities and to identify any needed upgrades.

Flight deck. The most important objective of flight deck avionics upgrades is to enhance operational safety through risk detection, avoidance, and management.

Upgrades may be required to accommodate changes from the original mission goals of pre-owned business jets, to avoid obsolescence, or to comply with mandates. While new avionics features help reduce pilot workload, they also improve flight capability, efficiency, and connectivity.

Examples include data communications (data comm), and aircraft communications, addressing, and reporting system (ACARS) of the Garmin G3000 avionics suite. Data comm allows pilots to text air navigation service providers (ANSPs) for clearances or en route services.

This expedites operations in crowded airspace or at congested airports where busy radio frequencies can delay important messaging. ACARS, at supported airports, provides digital airport information, weather, departure clearances, flight plan uploading, messaging, and automatic position reporting.

Other flight deck upgrades which merit consideration are head-up displays (HUDs), enhanced flight vision systems (EFVS), synthetic vision guidance systems (SVGS), and runway awareness solutions.

Cabin. The expectations and concerns of passengers and cabin crew are central considerations when chosing COTS business jets.

While COTS aircraft interiors may require little or no modification, cabin refurbishment often occurs when ownership is transferred. In meeting passenger expectations, cabin avionics should be evaluated when reviewing candidate aircraft, including the functionality of inflight connectivity (IFC), inflight entertainment (IFE), cabin management system (CMS), lighting, and environmental controls.

Consultations and planning should involve management, passengers, crew, maintenance, and other flight department personnel.

The future

Table 1. Selected COTS jet aircraft currently in production and suitable for business applications.

The next generation of COTS business jets features improvements from a range of visionary prospects such as laminar flow technology, carbon composite construction for increased strength and reduced weight, unparalleled fuel efficiency, highly customizable cabin configurations, and significantly reduced environmental impact.

In February 2021, Bombardier announced the end of production for the iconic Learjet, but with continuing support and maintenance for the in-service fleet. Later, Bombardier introduced the midsize Challenger 3500, featuring an industry-first voice-controlled cabin to manage lighting, temperature, and entertainment systems.

The aircraft is expected to enter service later this year, with a price tag of $26.7 million. Textron Aviation’s Cessna Citation XLS Gen2 achieved FAA type certification in May 2022. This is the latest model of the Citation 560XL, and includes several comfort and productivity upgrades. It is expected to sell for $15.5 million.

Dassault’s Falcon 10X will feature an entirely new fuselage with extra-large windows. The aircraft will be powered by in-development Rolls-Royce Pearl 10X engines delivering in excess of 18000 lb of thrust and a range of 7500 nm at M 0.85. Entry into service is expected in 2025, with the aircraft priced at $75.0 million.

Gulfstream G800 is scheduled for service entry in 2023, eventually replacing the G650ER. The aircraft is expected to be priced at $71.5 million. In late 2021, Honda Aircraft Co announced the HondaJet 2600 Concept, the first light jet capable of non-stop transcontinental flight across the US at 450 kts.

Designed for single-pilot operations, the aircraft features a 6363-ft cabin altitude at its maximum operating altitude of 47,000 ft, and will accommodate up to 11 occupants. Price is expected to be $10–12 million.

Reimaging COTS

In 2021, the HondaJet was the most delivered aircraft in its class for the 5th consecutive year, based on data from GAMA. Seating a pilot plus 7 passengers maximum, the aircraft offers a range of 1433 nm, cruising at 360 KTAS. Featuring a Garmin avionics suite, the aircraft is priced at $5.4 million.

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow COTS business aircraft comprise a critical component of global air transport. Dynamic market demands and supply chain issues continue to affect aircraft and avionics production, and it is here that COTS procurement can provide great assistance. COTS concepts can go beyond the aircraft to component levels as well.

Extending the functionality of COTS business jets via custom development is an option, but this decision must be considered carefully with particular regard to long-term support and maintenance implications.

Concerns may arise from a COTS component used on an identical but state-operated aircraft, especially since airworthiness of such a component may be managed differently.

Electronic and electrical issues may be a likely cause even for a mechanical system which is usually controlled by electronics in some way. In many applications, a mature component may be preferred to a state-of-the-art COTS component, depending on its source.

Customization of COTS aircraft may also affect resale value. In general, COTS product obsolescence can require customized support or development of a replacement system. COTS concepts should meet future operational and environmental requirements using drop-in solutions.

This approach will serve to lengthen the service lives of current designs and secure the owner’s investment by ensuring that the asset is not rendered worthless by newer technology. While the revolutionary technology used to customize COTS business jets has promise, in-service experience and exposure to the rigors of flight will identify those components and connections in need of especially vigilant maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO).

The utility of 3D printing will become more pervasive in helping to avoid conventional spares provisioning. The path and pace of procuring and managing COTS business jets will prove business aviation’s commitment to drastic but needed changes in design and supply chain processes.


DonDon Van Dyke is professor of advanced aerospace topics at Chicoutimi College of Aviation – CQFA Montréal. He is an 18,000-hour TT pilot and instructor with extensive airline, business and charter experience on both airplanes and helicopters. A former IATA ops director, he has served on several ICAO panels. He is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and is a flight operations expert on technical projects under UN administration.