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Although he covets the smaller- off-the-beaten-path destinations afforded by the smaller jet he flies a part of the time - a purpose-built business jet in the large/ultra-long-range segment that overlaps partly with the bizliner segment - a retired air-carrier friend of mine also loves the long-distance capabilities of the bizliner he flies the other part of the time. He loves the capabilities of bypassing fuel stops and routing around unfriendly skies with almost total impunity to the leg length.

Dave Higdon   |   1st February 2010
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Top Guns:
Bizliners remain popular choice with huge flexibility.

Although he covets the smaller- off-the-beaten-path destinations afforded by the smaller jet he flies a part of the time - a purpose-built business jet in the large/ultra-long-range segment that overlaps partly with the bizliner segment - a retired air-carrier friend of mine also loves the long-distance capabilities of the bizliner he flies the other part of the time. He loves the capabilities of bypassing fuel stops and routing around unfriendly skies with almost total impunity to the leg length.

While we know that each private jet segment has its place in the world- aside from its weight and performance-related runway limitations- there’s little to dispute that the bizliner segment provides the biggest and best in many areas of corporate aviation.

For example- when it comes to floor space- bizliners typically deliver in multiples over their closest competitors from the realm of purpose-built business jets. Taken to the extremes of some wide-body airliners- that translates to nearly 6-000 square feet of floor space spread across multiple cabin levels. In terms of reach- some of the purpose-built business jets can shrink the world quite dramatically – down to three full-fuel legs and part of a fourth to circle the globe. The bizliners at the top of the range-mountain deliver the ability to make that round-the-world trip in three legs – or at least in three legs- with a fourth shorter than the purpose-built jets.

“When the boss needs to go from Dallas to the Pacific Rim nations southwest of Japan- he gets to choose between the large-category business jet and an enjoyable island stop the big airplane can’t make- or skipping the attractive stop and going non-stop-” said our retired air-carrier. “To tell you the truth- those stops are a lot of fun…but getting there and back in four days flat is that efficient- and gets us back home in time to take the weekend off.

“We have fewer considerations about how much we carry with the big plane – and that makes for fewer debates with the staff over what to carry and what to ship-” he added.

In the early years of aviation- aircraft were generally designed around a mission or need- with the lines fairly well drawn. Airliners served the fledgling commercial industry- everything served pilots- since a pilot- a copilot and a passenger or two pretty much defined the capabilities of the non-airliner airplanes of the early years.

Some businesses were quick to tap the potential of the private airplane- selecting a variety of airplanes to serve in roles as diverse as delivering oil-patch equipment and engineers to flying critical personnel between the sites of important appointments – much as we generally view business aviation today.

Even as manufacturers began to design specifically for high-efficiency corporate travel many airplanes with more broadly defined markets held appeal to business operators. In a time when “private pilot” was less part of the lexicon than “pilot”- airplanes from the 1932 Beech Staggerwing and its follow-on- the Bonanza- were pitched directly to business travelers- though their appeal to pilots in general helped assure their success. By the time the groundbreaking Learjet Model 23 arrived in 1963- the Lockheed JetStar was already a proven player in business aviation at a time when most corporate and executive transports were adoptive children of the arena.

The Model 23 opened up a new level at the low-end of business aviation as corporate lions were continuing the practice of adopting airliners for the biggest corporate needs; a practice started with airplanes like the Douglas DC-3 now moved into the jet age- with Douglas DC-8s- Boeing 707s and 727s catching on with a handful of corporate operators.

The President of the United States took a proven jet airliner to be Air Force One when time came to move more into the jet age. Those 707s served until the 1990s- when another pair of Boeings took up the role – 747-200s- this time. Interestingly- it wasn’t until the mid-1990s- though- that the practice of selling airliners as corporate aircraft finally established itself for good.

That evolution from the odds-and-ends sales of white tails to business operators at white-tail prices can be seen today as the most exclusive niche of business aviation- with several players offering a variety of solutions as broad as those available to the common carriers. The age of the bizliner is now well into its second decade and showing signs that it will continue to defy the expectations of the mid-1990s.

What makes a bizliner? The answer makes this category more-easily defined than any of the others: Genetics. By way of explanation- take the partnership product of Boeing and GE we know as the Boeing Business Jet or BBJ.

Launched as a purpose-modified conversion of a 737- Boeing’s best-seller of an airliner- the Dash 300-based BBJ received different treatment in its production to accommodate additional fuel capacity and to support the systems of an aerial office suite – and then delivered “green” or unfinished- no interior- no paint. The same standard existed before the two partners created BBJ as a distinctive brand of Boeing going back decades.

In essence- a ‘bizliner’ is an airplane originally conceived and marketed predominantly for air-carrier use- altered to support the corporate aircraft mission. So it’s in the genes - and where the deviation was once quite rare- the bizliner outcome occurs ever more often these days.

Sometimes Airbus and Boeing remind me of kids from the same neighborhood growing up with the same rivalry- and a determination to keep up with one another at all costs. Thus it surprised few when Airbus announced its entry into the bizliner segment with a purpose-modified version of the A320 – what else but the 737’s most-ardent competitor with similar market acceptance and bizliner potential. The feedback and acceptance- albeit somewhat slower to happen than for Boeing’s BBJ- came and the program caught on and expanded.

Airbus needed little time to decide a solo offering failed to meet the market potential of an expanded product line- so after its own modest start with a single model- Airbus spent little time expanding beyond competing BBJ- and the original ACJ soon had company:

Airbus tapped both the A319 and A321 variant airliners to stay competitive. While matching up competitors for BBJ’s initial offerings- Airbus arguably seized on the full-product-line game plan more quickly than its Seattle competitor- developing tailored variants of its entire model line – starting with its smallest- the A318- to its largest- the full double-deck A380.

Range capabilities span the spectrum- from a bit above the medium-range jets’ nominal reach to the A380’s 5-800 nautical miles- (interestingly- the A380’s floorplan provides about one square foot of space for every nautical mile in range potential – about 5-800 square feet).

Years ahead of its maiden flight- Airbus even has VIP orders for its 350XWB. Pricing for an ACJ starts at about $75 million and climbs toward the half-billion mark for a completed A380.

More information from www.airbus.com

The alignment of Boeing and GE almost 15 years ago accorded more legitimacy and credibility to the product offering than years of prior stutter-step forays by airliner manufacturers that attempted to tap into the corporate market.

The quick-follow by rival OEM Airbus (see above) added international heft to the view of the market and made the arena competitive… and it’s only grown from that auspicious starting point. Boeing Business Jets now offers VIP models for the entire Boeing product line- the 737 to the newest- the Dreamliner.

The company has orders for the 787 among the 120 orders received. The 777- 767 and 747 are all in the mix- including the legacy 747-400 and the in-development 747-8. The most popular are- of course- the 737- derived products – the BBJ- BBJ2- BBJ3 and BBJ4. These models range in price- green- from more than $60 million to upward of $250 million.

Depending on your choice of model and equipment options- range potential is excellent in all variations- from more than 3-000 nautical from the BBJ3 to almost 6-000 nautical from the BBJ- BBJ2 and BBJ4 – as well as out to similar lengths for the wide-body models.

Appointments are what you would have them be- within only the limits of the technologies you seek to install and the reach of your finances – but another $25 million to finish a BBJ is not out of line- nor is the $100- million plus you could spend on completion of a 747-400.

More information from www.boeing.com

Unlike Airbus and Boeing- Bombardier builds among the world’s most-capable purpose-built business jets. Just like the two giants of commercial aviation- though- Bombardier also makes some of the world’s most-productive regional airliners via its CRJ line.

Offering a variant of one of those CRJs under the Challenger business jet brand only makes good sense - and the company markets the Challenger 850 model as an option for corporate operators. This airliner variant delivers economy- flexibility and space at a competitive price- and is targeted to serve a corporate aviation role in the same way as Bombardier’s other two lines- the Learjet and Global models of purpose-built business jets.

The Challenger 850 evolved out of Bombardier’s 50-seat CRJ200 model which originated as a derivative of the Challenger 600 business jet line- and the CL850 offers 2-811 nautical miles range (8 pax). The Challenger bizliner is competitively priced at around $31.87 million.

More information from www.aero.bombardier.com

Embraer long ago recognized the potential in business flying- offering and selling some corporate variants of its trailblazing 300-knot EMB-120 Brasilia- a 30-seat propjet as a corporate liner. Embraer signaled its intention to compete for a share of the business jet market with the launch of the Legacy 600- a re-tasked EMB- 145 regional jet. The move was met with significant success. A year ago the company won the wings for the Lineage 1000- its newest and largest-yet bizliner.

Derived from the 106-seat EMB-190 airliner the Lineage 1000 targets the high-end luxury business jet niche segment. Capable of carrying 19 passengers in a wide- spacious interior with plenty of luggage capacity- the Lineage 1000 can fly a maximum range of 4-500 nautical miles. Embraer handles its own completion and offers dozens of modules that can be combined throughout its five distinct cabin zones- creating hundreds of different interior layout possibilities. The cabin also counts on a welcome area/crew lounge zone and two standard lavatories. A third lavatory and a stand-up shower are available as options.

Up on the flight deck- the crew gets to work with a five-screen integrated Honeywell Primus Epic avionics panel and a fly-by-wire flight control system- and benefits from the reliability of a proven platform- designed to meet the high utilization standards of the airline environment- with low operating costs- easy maintenance and simplified cockpit procedures.

Deliveries started back in 2009 with more than 20 sold so far- according to Embraer. Current price list for the completed Lineage 1000 is about $49.25 million.

More information from www.embraercorporatejets.com

These days hundreds of perfectly serviceable airliners sit parked in some of the various bone-yards around the United States - grounded by economic woes- carrier consolidations and declining passenger traffic. One operator’s surplus is another operator’s raw materials when you divert a useable airliner into a conversion program and away from years mothballed in a desert. So it would be dereliction of duty to miss noting the availability of programs that offer conversions of airliners – regional airliners- specifically – into newly minted bizliners.

Advantages of this option include lower initial costs- a wide selection of candidate aircraft- shorter lead times and equal equipment options for the finished conversion. Upgrades in avionics and refurbishment of engines are available in many of these packages.

Downsides could include starting with an airframe and engines that have already labored intensively in the high-cycle flight environment of regional feeder networks. And realistically- today’s market may offer short lead-time delivery slots made available by a motivated seller- which arguably fulfills the wishes of an impatient buyer more interested in buying new.

But the overall costs will reflect that all-new airplane – a price you can be assured will be higher than a bizliner borne out of a refurbished regional jet. In tight times such as these- the lower costs may be more appealing than the airframe age/time is worrying. BAe- for example has about 25 conversions of RJ70- RJ85 and RJ100 jetliners operating as Avro VIP or Corporate jets (more information from www.baesystems.com). Other conversion programs include Project Phoenix in the U.S. (www.projectphoenixaircraft.com); Flying Colours in Peterborough- Ontario (www.flyingcolourscorp.com); and Switzerland’s ExecuJet (www.execujet.net) which all offer their takes on converting CRJ200 50-seat airliners into a corporate aircraft.

And it’s not as if the whole bizliner niche didn’t start with former line airliners coming out of a conversion process to lead a new- productive- more sedate life than the ‘cram-as-many-segments-as-possible’ that makes up the day-to-day life of airline service.

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