Demand for greater reach, utility, and comfort is met by long- and ultralong-range business jets
Sustainable performance and features seek to anticipate needs, but their introduction merits corporate-wide change management.
By Don Van Dyke
ATP/Helo/CFII. F28, Bell 222
Pro Pilot Canadian Technical Editor
The global Covid-19 crisis nudged many new users into business aviation – a marketplace offering alternative operational flexibility and enhanced efficiency.
The long- and ultralong-range (LR, ULR) segment comprises business jets built for non-stop flights planned to exceed 2500 nm (or 5 hours duration) and 6000 nm (or 12 hours duration), respectively. Realizing their business value, users of such aircraft regard them as indispensable rather than indefensible.
Lingering consequences of the pandemic, combined with ongoing global tensions, airspace closures, reduced passenger trust, and security concerns, have made consideration of long-range business jets increasingly imperative. The challenge now is to make the conversion long term.
The LR and ULR market. Executives who are familiar with business aviation may consider larger and more capable aircraft to meet evolving travel needs or reach expanding and increasingly demanding locations. LR/ULR aircraft are designed to maximize unrefueled range while meeting requirements for reliability, performance, and redundancy, which are important considerations when operating over remote or challenging areas.
A recent analysis of JetNet data by Airbus revealed that there are 14,632 private jets in the United States, representing roughly 62.5% of the world fleet. Of these, 37.5% are categorized as heavy or ultra long-range.
Today’s LR/ULR market is dominated by Bombardier, Dassault, and Gulfstream. Both Airbus and Boeing offer a limited range of airliners converted for business or personal use. And Embraer was a notable participant, but in 2020 it announced discontinuing sales of its Lineage 1000E.
Flight decks. LR/ULR operations involve demanding crew assignments that have the potential to increase fatigue-related operational risks, particularly during critical flight phases such as approach and landing.
Large-format touchscreens enhance situational awareness and information management by replacing 70% or more of the controls found on traditional aircraft panels. Aircraft systems are monitored constantly by advanced data concentration networks (DCNs), which alert pilots to potential faults, switching automatically to redundant systems when appropriate.
Gulfstream’s Predictive Landing Performance System (PLPS) provides pilots with visual/aural alerts to avoid a landing overrun either by adjusting the approach or by going around.
Meanwhile, the Dassault Falcon 10X may become the first large-category aircraft designed for single-pilot operations (under EASA [European Union Aviation Safety Agency] classification CS25).
Cabin. LR/ULR jet interiors offer advanced functionality and aesthetics to accommodate a range of personal tastes. Available LR/ULR cabin space is divided into working, living, and rest areas. Layouts may include seats that can be converted into beds and can be positioned near windows and cabin controls. The Bombardier Global 7500 introduced an actual bedroom as a 4th compartment.
Related cabin management systems (CMSs) optimize comfort, convenience, and cost. Certain environmental control systems (ECSs) use ionization processes to eliminate pathogens and allergens, while others provide never-recirculated air. Furthermore, customizable cabin lighting may be offered to modify productivity/sleep cycles or synchronize circadian rhythms to destination local time.
Secure, reliable, global connectivity through Ka/Ku-band satellite resources is an increasingly critical inflight need to exploit videoconferencing and other resources of our 21st-century Internet. And advanced inflight entertainment (IFE) systems feature screens up to 40 inches wide with digital signal processing and seat-centric audio technology to personalize vivid cinematic and listening experiences.
Opting for LR/ULR capability. OEMs strive to ensure their aircraft satisfy client needs effectively. A corporate decision to add LR/ULR aircraft to their fleet is based on aligned business, operational, societal, and financial plans, and managed risks.
Change-management processes are essential to qualifying and quantifying the need for LR/ULR aircraft. The project must engage each department to plan and review milestones and to clarify the extent of its involvement in related processes. This is particularly important in order to avoid decisions being made for less pragmatic reasons.
The in-house cultural and stand-alone transition to operating an LR/ULR business jet effectively may be quite lengthy – sometimes more than 10 years.
Risk management strategy. Risk-informed decisions are based on proactive identification, evaluation, and prioritization of threats to a flight operation – a particularly important exercise which should be undertaken long before starting international flights. For example, insurance coverage for aircraft and crew should address the slate of risk factors inherent to long-range international operations.
Facilities. LR/ULR aircraft are typically large and significantly heavy. Hangar dimensions, ramp space, and support equipment may limit permitted aircraft size or weight. These are important considerations, especially when planning trips to confined airports. And keep in mind that your potential destinations may be accessible only to aircraft capable of steep approaches.
Facilitation. Operators must secure proof of ownership prior to applying for a Letter of Authorization (LoA) to meet international operating requirements that may include controller–pilot data link communications (CPDLC) and reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM). These steps may delay putting the aircraft into service after delivery.
Flight, cabin, and maintenance crew. Adding newer and more capable aircraft imposes changes in training requirements for flight department and administrative personnel, and may also drive an increase in current staffing levels. Crewing intercontinental aircraft may require a separate pool of pilots, cabin attendants, and maintenance personnel, filled either by direct hires or contract workers. It is advisable to recruit crew with significant international experience to pass the benefit of their knowledge to succeeding generations.
Owing to the longer duty times involved, fatigue management may require refinement of rest times and adjustment to environmental conditions.
Maintenance. New core designs and parts made from ceramic matrix composites deliver greater thrust, reliability, and lower specific fuel consumption (SFC), but require significantly less scheduled maintenance activity and fewer inspections. However, maintenance requirements may be more extensive and more expensive to meet the demands of operating in different regions around the globe.
Sustainability. Developments in environmental sustainability, new technologies, and regulations are reshaping business aviation. The business aviation community seeks to achieve its carbon-neutral goal by 2050.
A key element is the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which potentially reduces aviation’s life cycle carbon emissions by up to 80% over the fuel manufacturing process. To be successful, SAF needs to be more accessible and affordable, but related technologies and infrastructure are not yet sufficiently developed. Operators cite tax benefits or operating costs savings as additional needed incentives.
Emerging trends. The global business jet market is expected to grow from $29.0 billion in 2022 to $38.3 billion in 2029, for a CAGR of 4.06% during the forecast period.
The Airbus ACJ TwoTwenty, launched in late 2020, created a new market segment – the “xtra large bizjet” – a new and unique value proposition.
New models expected to enter the marketplace in 2023, including the Bombardier Global 6500, the Gulfstream G700, and the Dassault Falcon 10X, offer larger cabins, longer range, and greatly improved utility.
Despite the demise of the Aerion supersonic business jet (SSBJ) in 2021, the prospect of long-range supersonic flight remains a viable vision for the 18-passenger Spike S-512.
Promising technologies, enhanced connectivity, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), and the drive for hybrid, electric, and hydrogen propulsion alternatives will all influence tomorrow’s LR/ULR designs.
Don 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.