Needs for effective and efficient air transport are met with sustainable performance and balance between light jet and long range aircraft capabilities.
By Don Van Dyke
ATP/Helo/CFII. F28, Bell 222
Pro Pilot Canadian Technical Editor
The Covid-19 pandemic, continuing global tensions, and airline challenges have encouraged users to consider business aviation – a marketplace offering secure, streamlined, and discreet services for business, VIP, and holiday air transport.
Business aircraft are informally classified according to technical characteristics (capacity, propulsion, range, etc). Midsize business jets may be grouped by Basic Operating Weight (BOW – 20,000–40,000 lb), range (3000–5000 nm), and seating (8–12 passengers).
A recent Airbus Corporate Jets analysis of JetNet iQ data concluded that the 14,632 private jets in the US comprise roughly 62.5% of the world fleet, segmented as light (42%), midsize (20.5%), and large (37.5%).
The midsize jet market
Midsize bizjets maximize unrefueled range while meeting requirements for reliability, performance, and redundancy, which are important considerations when operating over or into remote or challenging areas. Generally, midsize jets offer more features, and cabins with greater headroom, legroom, and baggage capacity.
The shorter field length required for takeoffs and landings permits access to smaller, more remote airports not available to larger business jets. In addition, weight-related airport charges and fees are lower for midsize jets than for their large jet peers.
The current midsize jet market is dominated by Bombardier, Dassault, Embraer, Gulfstream, and Textron Aviation. Notably, Embraer announced in mid-May 2023 signing a $5-billion agreement for NetJets to purchase 250 Praetor 500 aircraft and related support package.
Flight decks. Midsize jet operations may involve crew assignments that carry increased operational risk, particularly during critical flight phases, such as approach and landing to smaller, isolated, and often remote airports.
Large-format touchscreens enhance situational awareness and information management by replacing 70% or more of controls on traditional cockpit panels. Data concentration networks monitor aircraft systems, alerting pilots to potential faults and switching automatically to redundant systems when appropriate.
The Predictive Landing Performance System (PLPS) in Gulfstream G280 aircraft provides pilots with visual/aural alerts to avoid a landing overrun by either adjusting the approach or by going around. Autothrottles and autobrakes are standard. The engines have a dual-channel Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) and are equipped with thrust reversers.
Several midsize jets feature full flight-by-wire (FBW) technology.
Cabin. Available midsize cabin space is divided into working, living, and rest areas, offering advanced functionality and aesthetics. Seats can be positioned near windows and cabin controls or reclined to a berth position for a more comfortable passenger experience. And a divan couch, if fitted, can be transformed into a bed.
Many midsize jets are equipped with an inflight entertainment (IFE) system, enclosed lavatory area, and a full galley equipped with convection or microwave oven, sink with hot/cold water, extendable countertop, and storage for food and cutlery.
Related cabin management systems (CMS) optimize comfort, convenience, and cost. Environmental control systems (ECS) either filter pathogens and allergens, or provide never-recirculated air. And cabin lighting may be customized to modify productivity/sleep cycles or synchronize circadian rhythms to destination local time.
Secure and reliable global connectivity through Ka-/Ku-band satellite resources is an increasingly critical inflight need that enables video conferencing and facilitates other cutting edge resources.
Advanced IFE systems may feature home theatre digital signal processing, and seat-centric audio technology to personalize vivid cinematic and listening experiences.
Opting for midsize capability
The decision to add midsize aircraft is based on aligned business, operational, societal, financial, and risk management plans. Having a process to manage changes is essential to qualifying and quantifying the need for a midsize aircraft, engaging each department to review, plan, and clarify its involvement in related processes.
Risk management strategy. Risk-informed decisions are based on proactive identification, evaluation, and prioritization of threats to an organization or operation. For example, insurance coverage for aircraft and crew should address risk factors that are particular to remote operations.
Facilities. Midsize jets often avoid the ramp space/surface, and support equipment limitations imposed on larger aircraft. These are important considerations, especially when planning trips to confined airports.
Flight, cabin, and maintenance crew. Adding more capable aircraft may drive an increase in current staffing needs and impose changed training requirements for flight, maintenance, and administrative personnel.
Crewing midsize aircraft may require a dedicated pool of personnel, filled either by direct hires or contract workers. Crew with significant experience in midsize jet operations pass the benefit of their knowledge to succeeding generations.
Maintenance. New core designs and parts made from composites require less scheduled maintenance activity and fewer inspections while delivering greater thrust, reliability, and lower specific fuel consumption (SFC). However, this may pose other challenges.
The Honeywell HTF7250G, for example, does not have mandatory scheduled overhauls or hot section teardown inspections. An engine is only removed if a fault is detected during flight or scheduled inspection, or if a component reaches life limit.
The lower frequency of scheduled events may complicate maintenance budgeting, making adherence to the Honeywell Maintenance Service Plan (MSP) a recommended practice.
Sustainability. Developments in regulations, environmental sustainability, and technologies are reshaping business aviation, which seeks to achieve carbon-neutral growth by 2050.
The use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) can reduce aviation’s life cycle carbon emissions potentially by up to 80% over the fuel manufacturing process. To succeed, however, SAF needs to be more accessible and affordable, but related technologies and infrastructure not yet sufficiently developed.
Bombardier offers pilots an app that optimizes flight plans for reduced fuel burn. However, operators cite tax benefits or operating cost savings as powerful needed incentives.
Whenever midsize jets operate into smaller communities, noise impact is an increasingly important environmental consideration.
Since 2020, business jet manufacturers use an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) which is 3rd-party verified in accordance with International Standard ISO 14025 to showcase an aircraft’s life cycle environmental footprint.
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 compound annual growth rate of 4.06% during the forecast period.
Recently upgraded models include the Bombardier Challenger 3500, a new look and branding for the Challenger 350, which lowers the cabin altitude, improves soundproofing, and adds Nuage seats and voice-controlled lighting, temperature, and IFE.
Future midsize jets will benefit from interior designs offering updated galleys, more cabin space, better acoustics, larger windows, and improved utility.
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 midsize aircraft designs, features, and performance.
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.