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Time is money. This simple axiom underpins all that’s attracting ever more converts to the benefits of business aviation. Travel by private aircraft- whether the simplest high-performance piston single or the most-advanced business jet- offers numerous paths to saving time. As veterans of business aviation can tell anyone- the private aircraft excels in several areas – most notably convenience- security and time-efficiency. The user ...

Dave Higdon   |   1st July 2008
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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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The Long-Distance Flyers:

Sans fuel stops- time saved.

Time is money. This simple axiom underpins all that’s attracting ever more converts to the benefits of business aviation. Travel by private aircraft- whether the simplest high-performance piston single or the most-advanced business jet- offers numerous paths to saving time. As veterans of business aviation can tell anyone- the private aircraft excels in several areas – most notably convenience- security and time-efficiency.

The user of a private aircraft saves those non-productive hours airline passengers waste on early check-in- the interminable security lines and the arrival wait on checked luggage. The time savings generally continues en route- where even a comparatively slow general aviation single beats the total travel times of flights subject to the delay-prone hub-and-spoke system. By comparison- the most humble light jet beats those connection-flight times handily.

Combine the ground-side wastes with the connection-saddled flight times that so frustrates business and personal airline travelers alike and private flying fares even better.

It takes deceivingly little speed to outperform faster-cruising airliners by hours on point-to-points that bypass a hub stop. And the high speed of the average jet serves only to improve on the time savings. All those time savings add up to also save money and energy for the travelers involved.

The main factor to challenge the business aircraft’s clear advantage comes into play on trips of lengths that require fuel stops. Then- arguably in many cases- the airlines may challenge the private jet. And the common carriers have the potential to hold their own here when pitted against the average range of the average jet.

But on or off the airlines’ route maps- private aviation holds its own against the airlines’ long-distance runners when the business aircraft comes from this month’s pack of marathon runners - the ultra-long-range jets. This particularly holds true when the origin and destination fall into that majority of airports lacking airline service.

Although the limitations imposed by the runway needs of these mega-distance runners narrows potential itineraries- none of the other benefits of flying privately suffer. Furthermore- in many cases- the long-range private jet can hack away many hours of en route time compared to city pairs that mean an airline trip of two or three legs.

That said- we all know and understand that a 5-000-nautical-mile business aircraft makes relatively few maximum-range flights compared to the more common short- and intermediate-distance trips. Yet even here- the long-range jet offers benefits both tangible and intangible – such as the ability to tanker fuel for multiple long legs to avoid higher prices at intermediate stops.

The larger cabins offer a plus on any trip. And when loaded properly- the ultra-long-legged jets offer the potential to pack more in the cabin by eschewing fuel not required for the next leg.

The fact that jets in this category go for prices approaching stratospheric seems irrelevant to the market – at least judging by multiple years of backlog growth exhibited.

So this month’s hardware rundown focuses on those business aircraft with the greatest in range capabilities - for those trips when you absolutely- positively need to go big distances.

Clearing the Bars for Ultras
As you might expect- this segment of business aviation has no upper limit – save that imposed by the state-of-the-art in practical aircraft design. We created a floor under this unlimited ceiling in order to focus on the models with the greatest non-stop distance capabilities.

In prior articles in the series we loosely set the bar for “long range” as the capability to cover at least 4-000 miles. So for ultra-long-range- we concurred that the 5-000-nautical-mile mark raises the bar enough to create a solid differentiation. Otherwise- we see no other worthy constraints such as cabin volume or maximum take-off weight. Long range- thus- takes in a surprising variety of models – each capable of taking people on surprisingly long flights.

The European planemaker’s original airliner derivative - the ACJ - clearly belongs in our collection with a still-air range capability of up to 6-000 nautical carrying eight and crew. And this is not the only long-ranger from Airbus- if you count sales of its other airliners – the A330- A340 twin-aisle jets- and the super-jumbo A380. They all clear the 5-000-nautical mark by a significant margin.

Based on the A319 single-aisle airliner- the ACJ brought the first fly-by-wire aircraft into business aviation – a technological mark not matched by a purpose-built business jet until last year’s approval of Dassault’s long-range Falcon 7X. We’ll have more on the Falcon later. First appearing nearly a quarter century ago- the A320 pioneered Fly-By-Wire in commercial aviation.

As for the ACJ- well- it’s hands-down the best-seller among the 100-plus Airbus corporate-jetliners sold- which includes two other A320-family derivatives – the A318 Elite and the larger A320 Prestige. Neither of these models makes the long-range bar- however.

Among the reasons for the ACJ’s demonstrated appeal is its 6-000-plus nautical mile range. The global support network of more than 150 locations and availability of more than 25-000 pilots worldwide trained in the A320 family provide other arguments on favor of the ACJ.

The CFM56 high-bypass-ratio turbofans from CFM International enjoy an excellent reputation based on decades of use and tens of millions of successful flights. Equipment for the modern digital cockpit includes an available Heads-Up Display system to improve the pilot’s ease of making approaches under limited-visibility conditions. Figure on about $75 million to obtain and complete an Airbus ACJ.

A330-200 Prestige
Many of the same benefits noted for the ACJ apply to this business variant of the Airbus A330 wide-body twin – service- support and mature power – except in this case- engine choice goes to the buyer: the GE CF6-80E1- the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 or the Rolls-Royce Trent 700.

The A330 Prestige also ups the ante considerably in terms of range- boasting the ability to cover a whopping 8-300 nautical miles between stops.

A340-300 & A340-500 Prestige
These two models take redundancy and space to a higher level thanks to the four CFM International CFM56-5C4/P powerplants employed on the -300 version of this twin-aisle wide-body business jet.

While slightly less impressive than the A330-200 Prestige when it comes to range- the A340 Prestige’s ability to carry 75 in a penthouse-quality cabin for great distances is surpassed by only a tiny number of airliner-derived business jets. The A340-300 variant can travel a massive 7-700 nautical miles- while the A340-500 version- powered by four Rolls-Royce Trent 500 fans- can go 10-000 nautical miles – the best in class.

A340-600 Prestige
Take the Trent-powered -500 version and give it a good stretch into 100-passengers-in-luxury territory and you have the A340-600 Prestige. In addition to more cabin and luggage space- the -600 Prestige can stay with the A330-200 Prestige on those lengthy trips with a range of 8-500 nautical miles.

Price estimates for the A330 and A340 variants are not readily available at present – but they do fall into the category of- “If you have to ask…” For guidance- however- show up with funds in the couple-of-hundred-million range to join this exclusive club.

A380 Prestige
If you can’t find space for your aerial-office needs in the A380 Prestige – Airbus’ massive new double-decker airliner – you may want to consider a second business location somewhere on the ground- because there’s nothing bigger flying that’s available directly to the corporate aviation community.

Between the two decks- the A380 super-jumbo provides nearly 6-000 square feet of floor space – room enough for office- conference space- a small auditorium- dorms- a fitness center- baths and showers - still leaving seating for scores… or- actually- whatever your imagination and wallet can support.

More than one A380 has been ordered for private purposes - though the delivery picture may be clouded by the general struggles Airbus has experienced with ramping up production. Crew availability will be somewhat more limited- as will airport access – there are relatively few fields capable of accommodating the A380 Prestige compared to the number of airports available to smaller models.

But once on your ramp- there’s little you couldn’t enjoy and with a 9-700 nautical mile range. This Airbus Prestige also falls under the old saw- “If you have to ask- you can’t afford to ask…” But think in terms of more than $300 million- completed.

More information from www.airbus.com

It took a partnership venture dedicated to serving the business aviation community to break airliners fully into the competitive field of corporate aircraft. But that’s exactly what Boeing and GE sought when they joined forces to inaugurate the BBJ program more than a dozen years back.

Since then- the BBJ line has not only succeeded- it has thrived- racking up about 130 orders in 12 years – and staying so in demand that used BBJs often command prices higher than new. The Boeing Business Jets’ backlog runs so deep that orders placed last fall were for deliveries in 2012 – and the backlog has since grown. Two of the three BBJ models clear our range bar to fit into the ultra-long-range stratum- the BBJ and BBJ2.

Based on the Boeing 737-700- the BBJ hails from history’s best-selling line of airliners- but sports mods tailored to meet the needs of today’s globe-circling business executives. Capable of covering just over 6-000 nautical miles and 5-600 nautical respectively- the BBJ and BBJ2 deliver that performance in cabins of 80 or 100 feet in length.

The best-selling airliner in history – with thousands still in use – also boasts arguably the largest qualified pilot pool of any aircraft available to the business community. And service through Boeing and its airliner-service partners means a BBJ of any model is seldom far from qualified technicians. Figure close to $62 million to get in line for the BBJ and about $72 million for the BBJ2.

747-8 VIP
The airline industry’s first and most-popular double-decker offers the corporate community a huge amount of space- a high cruise speed and great legs- to match. Figure on about 9-200-plus nautical miles for the extreme of the 747-8 VIP – right near the top of the pack.

With about 5-700 square feet of space available on the two decks- the 747-8 VIP misses the A380 mark by a small percentage. And the 747-8’s high cruise speed of Mach 0.86 means you’ll cover those maximum range legs in as short a time currently available. Even though the 747-8 is still in development- buyers are already lined up.

787 VIP
Boeing Business Jets also held orders for two VIP variants of Boeing’s breakthrough new Dreamliner last year- so the orderbook has no place to go but up. And some of the traits that make the 787 the world’s best-selling airliner before first flight can’t help but shine through.

The breakthrough technology for the 787 is its composite airframe- the first and largest all-composite airliner yet. It’s little wonder that the company offers the business Dreamliner in two versions.

The 787-8 provides the operator with a single-level floor plan exceeding 2-400 square feet in a model capable of staying with the 747-8 in range with the capability to fly legs as long as 9-590 nautical miles.

The larger 787-9 VIP ups the floor space to nearly 2-800 square feet with a stretch that adds a bit more than 350 square feet when compared to the -8 version. Range also increases about 5 percent with the 787-9 VIP- to 9-950 nautical miles.

For some size perspective- a corporate-fitted 787-8 offers space for as many as 75- while the corporate version of the 787-9 can carry about 100. If there’s a tough side to this story it’s Boeing’s struggles getting the 787 prototype to first flight – now approaching a two-year delay that will likely push back delivery of the initial VIP units.

Now well past 10 years in service- and with a nearly blemish-free safety record- the Triple-Seven stands as one of the most-popular twin-aisle twins ever. And Boeing Business Jets has been working here with customers interested in the 787- but with more immediate needs.

More information from www.boeing.com

Bombardier can claim credit for raising the large-cabin business jet to a level previously unheard of when the company launched the Global line more than 16 years back. While considerably smaller than those airliner-based behemoths already profiled- the Global family offers several other traits that keep them very competitive in the realm of ultra-long-range flying.

For example- airport limitations are fewer thanks to the excellent runway performance of both models. Similarly- direct operating costs come in considerably lower than the airliner derivatives – precisely because the engines aren’t pushing around 60 or 70 tons of airliner. And while smaller- the 8.2-feet-wide- 6.3-feet-tall cabins of these two long-distance performers can nonetheless accommodate all that’s important for conducting business en route.

The Global 5000 offers a 42-foot-long cabin and the efficiency to cover just over 5-200 nautical miles – making its name particularly appropriate. The XRS version- meantime- boasts about six feet more in cabin length and a considerably higher gross weight – weight used to accommodate the fuel for 6-150-mile legs.

The price is around $39 million for the Global 5000 and just over $50 million for the XRS – both bargain buys compared to the corporate airliner types.

More information from www.aero.bombardier.com

The newest member of the purpose-built ultra-long-range segment- the Falcon 7X comes in at the smaller end of the segment - a technological achievement considering that it employs three engines.

Not only does the Falcon 7X own the small end of the ultra-long-range niche- it also boasts the mantle of lightest – and barely misses out on being the least expensive. But it’s the technological advances of the 7X that make it most stand out.

Firstly- it’s the first purpose-built business jet to boast fly-by-wire controls. This system helps save weight and reduces systems complexity; also imbuing the aircraft with benefits in integration with the aircraft’s flight-deck systems while providing maneuvering limits designed to protect the aircraft – protections so far unique to fly-by-wire aircraft.

The control system works with Dassault’s distinctive EASy flight deck- an adaptation based on and developed with Honeywell equipment. The light weight- svelte dimensions and advanced aerodynamics work with the three 6-402-pounds-thrust PW307A engines to allow the 7X to fly legs exceeding 6-000 nautical miles – comfortably ahead of its nearest price competitors… and that price comes in at just over $42 million.

More information from www.dassaultfalcon.com

Two mainstays of this category- the G500 and G550 hail from Gulfstream- one of the pioneering companies in the realm of ultra-long-range jets.

A top-tier business jet in this segment- the G550 offers the capability to cross 6-750 nautical miles of the world between stops. The long- roomy cabin stretches 50 feet- stands 6.2 feet tall and spans 7.4 at its widest. The G500- meantime- offers a 5-800-nautical-mile range with the same cabin- but its smaller fuel capacity- on one hand- provides improved runway flexibility and- on the other- a still-respectable range of 5-800 nautical miles. Both aircraft share in their Rolls-Royce BR710 powerplants and Gulfstream-adapted PlaneView flight deck. With that difference in range capability comes a price differential- as well you might expect. To own a G500 takes a bit more than $39 million- while the G550 demands about $8 million more.

The newest kid on the block- Gulfstream announced the G650 addition to its large jet family only a few months back in March. But already it is making waves thanks to a superb combination of speed and range flexibility- cabin size and efficiency.

Right up front- the G650 stands to top the pack of ultra-long-range jets in terms of speed with a whopping Mach 0.9 cruise capability – best in class. And at that speed- the G650’s range puts it at the entry end of this segment – 5-000 nautical. Slow it down to a still-scorching Mach 0.85 and the G650’s range jumps a massive 40 percent – that’s right- up by 2-000 nautical miles to 7-000 nautical.

Its cabin is fully one-quarter larger than the G550 at more than 2-100 square feet- making it the top among purpose-built business jets in cabin space. Simply put- the G650 stands to rewrite the standards for size- speed-and-range combinations- and technology.

Other details available so far include an advanced fly-by-wire system- a newly enhanced PlaneView cockpit featuring Honeywell’s cutting-edge three-dimensional synthetic vision- and Rockwell Collins’ advanced HGS-6000 Head’s-Up Display system- among its many cutting-edge features.

The new Rolls-Royce BR725 engines produce more than 16-000 pounds of thrust with a new level of efficiency- which- coupled with the G650’s slick aerodynamics- will make those speed and range numbers possible.

The first flight of a prototype aircraft is planned for the second half of 2009- with two more test aircraft and two production-quality certification articles expected to participate before the G650 wins its wings in the first half of 2011. The line forms at Savannah and the ticket to ride this rocket will go for about $59 million.

More information from www.gulfstream.com 

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