Editorials

January 6, 2015

The Top Five Business Jets of Today

Have you ever heard the saying “an airplane is only as good as its mission?” As aviation aficionados, we every so often wonder which aircraft is best in the overall sense of the word. Many of us examine our favorite flying machines with such immeasurable detail and simultaneously develop our own methods of measuring an aircraft’s worth through characteristics by which we deem most important. Qualities like operating costs and fuel efficiency, which often are overlooked by the average enthusiast, are almost always the most influential factors when an airline decides how it will structure its fleet. However, in the world of business jets where other dynamics such as passenger comfort and utility are of the utmost importance, the competition among manufacturers to produce a supreme product is an ongoing battle.

Cutting edge technology developed by top industry leaders Bombardier, Dassault and Gulfstream have given today’s market for private air travel the ability to fly farther, faster and more comfortably than ever before. Today’s business jet is capable of flying distances of over 6,000 nautical miles and speeds of over 92 percent the speed of sound, a remarkable improvement from the first business jets developed in the 1960s. Despite the fact these capabilities have significantly improved in recent years, the notion that an aircraft is only as good as its mission still remains true. While characteristics like speed may be paramount to a potential buyer who is reliant on being in several cities in one day, another potential buyer may require an aircraft with extended transatlantic range capability in order to conduct business overseas. At the end of the day, the subject of which aircraft is essentially the best in the world of corporate general aviation is widely debated by charter brokers, as it is highly dependent on its mission.

Now let’s create a scenario based mission of our own in order to highlight some of general aviation’s most notable developments. You are successful businessman/woman living in New York City. The company you work for has offices in London, New York and Tokyo. Your position requires you to travel between these three cities on a biweekly basis, and the company CFO has put you in contact with several of the top manufacturers in the large cabin class business jet market. The corporate headquarters for your company is located in downtown Manhattan, and the board of directors has decided to lease a hangar to base your aircraft just eight miles to the west at Teterboro Airport. One important note is that Teterboro restricts operations to aircraft that weigh more than 100,000 pounds which will be a factor in your decision making. Here are a few aircraft that might fit the bill.

A Dassault Falcon 900LX on departure.

A Dassault Falcon 900LX on departure.

5. Dassault Falcon 900LX

With its distinctive tri-jet design that is unique to Dassault Falcon products, the Falcon 900 is one of the most versatile aircraft in its class and has earned the number five slot on our list. For more than 30 years, the Falcon 900 has seen a great range of success in the business jet market with more than 500 total aircraft having been delivered from Dassault’s main production plant in Merignac, France. The latest version of the Falcon 900, dubbed the LX, offers customers an ability to travel up to 4,750 nautical miles on a single tank of gas — all  while providing a comfortable seating arrangement for up to 14 passengers. Such trips that are demanding to most private jets like New York to Sao Paulo, or even Tokyo to Los Angeles, are an easy task for the Falcon 900. The additions of 66-inch winglets to the 900LX contribute to a 5% increase in range from previous Falcon 900 versions thanks to a reduction in drag.

In addition to its superior range, the Falcon 900LX also gives the customer the ability to travel in substantial luxury at a reasonable price. Its spacious cabin measures 6’2″ from floor to ceiling and a 7’8″ from wall to wall, allowing for a wide variety of layout possibilities that can include couches and the finest first class seating that money can buy. Amenities such as telephone communications and a wireless high speed internet connection also come standard. Depending on configuration, the 900LX can carry almost 1.5 tons of baggage, which comes in handy in the event a weekend shopping getaway in Paris should become necessary. Contrary to popular belief, operating costs are nearly half of those of competing aircraft, as the Falcon 900LX averages up to $3,000 per hour.  The aircraft also weighs just 49,000 pounds at its maximum gross and can store up to 21,000 pounds of fuel.

Perhaps most impressive about the Falcon 900 is its superb ability to operate into airports with short runways and weight restrictions. Per manufacturer specifications, the Falcon 900 requires just 2400 feet of runway for landing. The key to this impressive feat is critically dependent on its lightweight, low VREF speeds and its three TFE731-60 engines that are capable of producing up to 15,000 pounds of thrust. While many modern jets are forced to limit use of thrust reversers below 60 knots in order to avoid ingesting FOD into the engines, the 900’s single centerline thrust reverser is located high enough where FOD ingestion is a less prevalent issue, and subsequently allows thrust reversers to remain on until the aircraft has come to a complete stop. This concept is unique to Dassault Falcon products and is what allows the 900 to operate into airports like London City (EGLC), where operations are limited exclusively to only certified aircraft types due to its relatively steep glide path angle as well as its 5,000′ runway.

Bottom Line: Why the Falcon 900LX deserves recognition

There is a reason why the Falcon 900 has been one of the best-selling business jets of all time, and that is because it gives its customers the most bang for the buck. It gives customers a respectable range capability, a luxurious cabin and the ability and remarkable short field capabilities. While it is listed at a price of a whopping $41 million, its relatively low operating cost and excellent utility are what draw most operators to opt for the Falcon 900.

A Dassault Falcon 7X in flight.

A Dassault Falcon 7X in flight.

4. Dassault Falcon 7X

The honor of number four on our list goes to yet another tri-jet and is business aviation’s first fly-by-wire aircraft. Developed in the mid-2000’s, the Falcon 7X is considered by many to be the flagship of French manufacturer Dassault Aviation.  The aircraft showcases an exceptional range of 5,950 nautical miles and can seat up to 16 passengers comfortably. It can easily reach New York from cities like Dubai and Moscow thanks to its three Pratt & Whitney 307A engines that are each capable of producing over 6,000 pounds of thrust. Speed is also another asset that which every Falcon 7X operator can utilize as most trips can be conducted at close to 90 (MMO .90) percent of the speed of sound, a number that is substantially greater than most modern commercial jetliners. Its interior cabin is almost 10 feet longer than the Falcon 900, and both jet interiors share the same height and width dimensions.

When looking from the outside, one will notice the aircraft shares several similarities to the Falcon 900 at first glance. However a vastly noticeable change on the 7X is the lack of the standard Falcon flat-paned windshield. This time around, Dassault implemented a conventional curved windscreen, a first for the French manufacturer.  It is also worth mentioning that the debut of the 7X was also the first Falcon model to come standard with winglets. For years it was known that Dassault was reluctant to add winglets to its primary designs because of its reluctance to follow on the heels of competitors; however, Dassault relented after realizing the significant performance improvements which could be brought forth.

For reasons such as added reliability and improved takeoff performance, many Falcon experts believe the advantages of a third engine significantly outweigh its disadvantages. Furthermore, the addition of a third engine plays a significant role during the take-off phase of flight. While Part 135 regulations require that flight crews must plan accordingly for one engine inoperative (OEI) performance, the additional third engine provided on the 7X allows for a greater margin of safety and a greater overall thrust output. In other words, a Falcon 7X would lose only one-third of total thrust in the event of a single engine failure, compared to the one-half of thrust output that would be lost on a twin jet.

Possibly one of the most radical differences of the Falcon 7X from its predecessors is the implementation of the patented Digital Flight Control System (DFCS). As a concept that was first designed for its military fleet, Dassault decided to integrate this technology into the flight decks of its modern business jet by replacing the conventional yoke found in most cockpits with a side stick control. This technological modification is believed to reduce overall pilot workload by eliminating several mundane pilot tasks such as trimming for pitch. Through the utilization of the fly-by-wire concept, the DFCS will trim the aircraft to agree with a pre-programmed flight path automatically, and will even make small pitch and bank corrections in turbulent conditions, until a pilot tells it to do otherwise.

Bottom Line: Why the Falcon 7X deserves recognition

The Dassault Falcon 7X is a pioneer of the fly-by-wire business jet era and can directly compete with any other aircraft in its class. It is also worth mentioning that the 7X set a speed record flying from Teterboro to London City in just five hours and 54 minutes.  The aircraft is an overall upgrade from the Falcon 900 in the sense that it is able to fly farther and faster while incorporating cutting edge technology in the cockpit.

A Gulfstream G550 owned by Coca-Cola Co., seconds before touchdown at Luton Airport.

A Gulfstream G550 owned by Coca-Cola Co., seconds before touchdown at Luton Airport.

3. Gulfstream 550

After more than 50 years of being a renowned industry leader, Gulfstream Aerospace first introduced one of its most successful developments to the business jet market in 2002. As it was originally an expansion product of the very successful GV model, the G550 in its prime was once considered by many industry experts to be one of the safest and most dependable that money can buy. But just how dependable is a Gulfstream 550? According to Gulfstream’s website, the 550 has established a 99.9% dispatch reliability rating per National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) standards, a feat that equates to “missing only one trip in five years of service.”  So what separates the G550 from its competitors?

Aside from its exceedingly powerful Rolls Royce BR-710 engines that are capable of producing over 15,000 pounds of thrust each, the G550 at the time of its inauguration excelled in many aspects that competitors simply could not match. For one thing, the 550’s impressive 6,750 nm range capability outperformed its top competitors by significant margins, and would remain a leader in this category for several years. Today, the G550 still holds several remarkable city pair records, with the most notable being Seoul to Orlando, covering a total distance of over 7,300 nautical miles! As of today, over 450 Gulfstream 550 aircraft are in active service and are commonly utilized by many prominent operators such as Net Jets and the United States military.

On the outside, the 550 possess a rather bold look with its 96.5′ wing span, a feature that hardly goes unnoticed on ramps across the world. Its 14 large oval windows are an excellent way to distinguish a Gulfstream product among others. On the inside, it features an interior length that measures 43 feet by 7 feet 4 inches in width.  Its cabin can be divided into four sections, and typical seating arrangements can accommodate as many as 18 people; however, with maximum fuel this is reduced to nine. Cabin amenities are on par with other competing large cabin class jets and can include several couches, lie-flat recliner style seating, and even two lavatories. Gulfstream offers its customers 12 luxurious cabin layouts to choose from that can be catered to individual needs.

There were also several remarkable flight deck improvements that had not been seen on the 550’s predecessors. Noteworthy additions such as debut of the Honeywell PlaneView Avionics system, a concept that significantly revolutionized pilot situational awareness, would eventually become a standard technology found in all Gulfstream cockpits. This award-winning technology utilizes four 14-inch glass display units that fill the entire instrument panel and allow flight crews to simultaneously monitor multiple aircraft systems without having to toggle between windows. The Heads Up Display (HUD) equipment utilized in the 550’s cockpit is also another upgrade from its predecessors. With the new less bulky display unit, flight crews are able to see terrain and topographical information while flying in adverse weather conditions without ever having to look away from the window, thanks to the improved Enhanced Vision System (EVS) that utilizes infrared technology.

Bottom line: Why the G550 deserves recognition

The Gulfstream 550 offers operators extreme flexibility as it can operate from airports with runways as small as 3,500 feet and is an ideal selection for both short and long range trips. For trips like New York to Tokyo, which are unachievable by most of its competitors, the G550 can accomplish with ease regardless of winds. While operating costs can average up to $9,000 per hour, the G550’s outstanding performance capability is worth every penny. 

A Bombardier Global 6000 shares many external features to its cousin, the CRJ.

A Bombardier Global 6000 shares many external features to its cousin, the CRJ.

2. Bombardier Global 6000

While Bombardier has seen a broad range of success in the commercial aircraft industry with aircraft such as the CRJ and Dash 8, its mission for success in the business jet market has yielded similar results. Since the 1990’s, the Canadian-based manufacturer has developed and produced a highly successful debut aircraft called the Global Express. To this day, the company has been involved in a fierce battle with industry rivals Gulfstream and Dassault to produce a first-rate business jet that is capable of spanning the globe. Bombardier’s latest product, the Global 6000, does just that and has been one of the most successful business jets with over 100 in service since its first delivery in 2012. For reasons such as cabin comfort and long haul ability, we’ve decided to give the Global 6000 the honors of runner-up on our top five list.

For starters, the Global 6000 preserves a modest range of – you guessed it – 6000 nautical miles. That means trips like London to Los Angeles and Moscow to Miami are an effortless chore. The 6000 also has an exceptionally high long range cruising speed of .85 mach, an attribute that can only matched by one other business jet (see number 1). For short range cruise, trips such as Los Angeles to New York can be conducted as fast as .88 mach. Conceivably this can be attributed to aircraft’s Rolls Royce BR-710 engines that happen to be the exact model found on the Gulfstream 550, and only a difference in thrust rating (the 6000 has a slightly less trust output) separates the engines apart from each other.

Although the Global 6000 will not be setting any city pair records, the aircraft is a clear winner in the cabin comfort department. The overall cabin makeup embodies a similar design to that of the CRJ and includes 28 windows that illuminate the cabin with natural light.  Its total cabin space dimensions are second only to the Gulfstream 650, with an overall length of 48 feet that provide an impressive 335 square feet of floor space (compared to just 237 square feet of the G550). The 6000 can accommodate up to 19 travelers if necessary, however it is unusual for most operators to carry more than eight to ten passengers at one time. Similar to its Gulfstream counterparts, Bombardier offers a variety of cabin layouts for operators to choose from that include both forward and aft lavatories. A 17.5 gallon hot water shower system that can provide water for up to 40 minutes is an ideal option offered for the demanding business traveler who does not have much time to waste while conducting business abroad. A fully equipped high definition cabin management system also comes standard with the 6000 and includes high speed internet access as well as all of the latest and greatest media viewing gadgets ( i.e. Blu-Ray players, Apple docking stations, etc). This gives users the ability to stream music and movies to any monitor in the cabin at the touch of a button. Much to my surprise, one of the most well regarded cabin features among operators of the Global 6000 is the ability to access the baggage compartment while in flight through the rear lavatory. Many find this to be a highly desirable quality as often passengers wish to retrieve items from their luggage, even at the most inopportune moments of the flight. One last item worth mentioning falls into the realm of cabin pressurization. While the Global 6000 cruises at 45,000 feet, the inside cabin pressure differential is just 4,500 ft. This figure is significantly less than the standard 8,000ft air pressure felt on a typical commercial flight and helps reduce the wear of 10+ hour flights on its passengers.

As there are a plethora of amenities for passengers to enjoy in the back, there are just as many niceties that many pilots appreciate in the front as well. Bombardier’s Vision Flight Deck utilizes software from Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion Avionics and has four 15-inch display units. It is highly regarded by many pilots to be as user friendly as any other system on the market, as it allows crews to virtually set up the display of information based on personal preferences and further helps the overall management of information. In addition, every new Global 6000 comes with an Apple iPad that is to be used as an electronic flight bag and essentially can help an operator stay organized by eliminating the need for paper in the cockpit.  A Heads Up Display unit equipped with an Enhanced Vision System that allows for enhanced situational awareness by giving pilots the ability to see all topographical information while flying in adverse weather conditions.

Bottom Line: Why the Global 6000 deserves recognition

The Bombardier’s Global 6000 is all about objective: Passenger comfort. It just so happens that its luxurious cabin is complimented by a respectable range and exceptionally high long range cruise speed. For a price tag of $58.5 million, customers are buying an aircraft that allow them to travel between cities such as New York, London City and Tokyo in the most ideal fashion.

Its 7,000 nautical mile range make the G650 one of the best in its class.

Its 7,000 nautical mile range make the G650 one of the best in its class.

1. Gulfstream 650

It should come as no surprise that the Gulfstream 650 takes the title of number one on our top five best business jets list. Whereas we have marveled upon the most fascinating business jet industry developments of the present in this article, we find that the Gulfstream 650 has raised the bar one step above all others by simply meshing all desirable qualities of its competitors into one fantastic piece of flying machinery. It can take its passengers farther and faster than any other business jet ever produced and is a testament to how far the ever growing private jet industry has come. While the 650 exemplifies some of the finest advancements in both aerodynamics and avionics, it has furthermore created a benchmark by which its future competitors will be judged.

From its early stages of development, Gulfstream’s mission to construct an entirely new aircraft began with the assembly of a highly specialized research group called the Advanced Technical Customer Advisory Team. Its primary objective was to poll existing customers to gain an understanding of how improvements could be made based on customer needs. The research performed by this team revealed a demand for even farther range, greater speed, and more cabin space from its already satisfied G550 customers. Though this was undoubtedly a tall order, the Savannah based manufacturer did not disappoint when it first revealed the Gulfstream 650 project to the public in 2008. When the world got its first look at the brand new concept, there were numerous changes to G650 from its predecessors which included a complete redesign of its wing in addition to noticeably larger windows than in previous models. Imaginably what makes the G650’s wing design especially unique was the subtraction of leading edge slats during initial aircraft development. This concept would ultimately allow Gulfstream to create a more efficient wing that is capable of operating at higher speeds because of its simplistic yet profoundly effective design. One more perceptible modification of the G650 was an increase in the overall wing sweep to precisely 36 degrees, the most ever on a Gulfstream product. It is believed that a greater wing sweep will contribute to greater efficiency at higher speeds and generally gives the 650 an inimitable look. So what were the results of the changes?

The Gulfstream 650 has set close to 40 city pair records since entering into service in 2012. It recently completed a record breaking around the world trip in just 4 legs that took 41 hours and 7 minutes from San Diego, California. As of today, Gulfstream 650’s have been delivered to customers with an additional 200 more backordered through 2017. It is one of the highest sought after business jets on the market, and is exclusive enough for Gulfstream to force its customers to sign a contract which states they are not allowed to sell their place in line. This makes owning a G650 that much more exclusive as even the wealthiest of people must wait for their turn in line to get their hands on the world’s most popular business jet.

So what is it that makes the G650 that much better than all others? First and foremost, the Gulfstream 650 is able to fly an incredible 7,000 nautical miles non-stop, an exploit that is unmatched by any other business jet in the world. In fact, by comparison, the 650 can fly as far as long haul airliners like the Boeing 767 and the Airbus A330.

From London, the aircraft can fly virtually anywhere with the exception of Australia on just a single tank of gas and makes the 650 the optimal choice for flying lengthy routes. Aside from its range, the Gulfstream 650 also happens to be the second fastest civilian aircraft in the world. The aircraft has flip-flopped back in forth in recent years with the Cessna Citation X for the title of fastest jet, and as of now the 650 has a maximum mach operating (MMO) limit close to 93 percent the speed of sound. Gulfstream credits its ability to fly at higher speeds thanks to its highly efficient design as well as its powerful Rolls Royce BR-725 engines each capable of producing up to 17,000 pounds of thrust. In addition, its ability to operate in and out of short fields makes the 650 all the more desirable as it requires only 3,000 feet of runway for landing at sea level in standard conditions.

On the outside, the Gulfstream 650 is one of the more aesthetically pleasing aircraft on the ramps all over the world. To say that the overall design of the Gulfstream 650 is extremely proportional would be an understatement. The aircraft measures 99 feet and 9 inches in length, has a wingspan of 99 feet and 7inches and weighs in at 99,600 pounds at maximum gross takeoff weight. Now how’s that for irony? Furthermore, one will notice the 14 distinct oval shaped windows that are the largest ever used on a Gulfstream product. They measure 28 x 20.5 inches and are an excellent way to distinguish the 650 from other Gulfstream variants. At night, the sequential LED strobe lights are very reminiscent of the Boeing 787 and can easily be mistaken when viewed from far away.

On the inside, G650 operators are treated with the pleasure of having largest cabin of any aircraft in its class. Its dimensions measure 46 feet 10 inches long x 8 feet 6 inches wide and can provide seating arrangements for up to 18 people in a three class cabin configuration. For longer flights, cabin capacity is reduced down to 8 passengers. One of the first noticeable differences in the cabin of the 650 is the placement of the large oval windows. Each window is strategically placed to maximize the amount of natural light within the cabin, a feature that is of high importance for travelers who suffer from claustrophobia. The 650 also possesses the ability to operate at relatively low cabin altitudes thanks to the bonding techniques implemented in the design of the aircraft that allow greater air pressure differentials within the cabin. While flying at an altitude of 45,000 feet, the interior cabin altitude remains as low as 4,000 feet and is helpful to the overall wear a long flight has on a passenger. A shower option is also available on the G650, and continuously flowing hot water can be provided for up to an hour. Unlike the Global 6000 where the shower takes up the entire width of the rear lavatory, the G650’s shower only takes up about 75 percent of the width, allowing for further access within the cabin behind the shower. Its state of the art cabin management system allows passengers to control every cabin feature that Gulfstream has to offer through the use of its personalized iPod touch screen control units. Its users can adjust cabin lighting, control window shades and even track progress of the flight as they move along throughout the flight.

Moving forward to the cockpit, the Gulfstream 650 uses fly-by-wire technology very similar to the Dassault Falcon 7X. It includes an enhanced version of the award-winning Plane View avionics first debuted on the G550, and improvements to onboard weather radar systems were a welcomed addition by many pilots. Interestingly enough, the G650 provides the most viewing space from the cockpit window of any Gulfstream product, and its state of the art heads-up display with an Enhanced Vision Display unit make flying LPV approaches all the more effortless.

Bottom Line: Why the Gulfstream 650 is number one

In a nutshell, the Gulfstream 650 combines the versatility of a Dassault Falcon 900, with the fly-by-wire technology incorporated on the Dassault Falcon 7X, coupled with the range of a Gulfstream 550 and possess a cabin that exceeds the Bombardier Global 6000. It is the only aircraft capable on our list that is capable of traveling from New York to both London and Tokyo non-stop, and makes long trips more enjoyable thanks to its high speed cruise and luxurious cabin amenities. While it is the most expensive aircraft on this list at the price of $65 million, it is evident that savvy customers get what they pay for.

Nicholas Chieco is an aviation enthusiast and airport operations professional residing in New Jersey.



About the Author

Nicholas Chieco





 
 

 

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  • Dave

    I know most Avgeeks are obsessed with the airliners, but having worked in an FBO it is the business jets that hold a special place in my heart. You certainly came up with a great list here. It will be interesting to see how the Falcon 5x and 8x fit into the picture in the coming years.

  • Tom Mika

    great article !