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Eleven years ago- when a prominent airliner maker and an engine manufacturer- decided to launch a joint venture to sell airliners as business jets- the question was whether the market held enough depth for such a player. Not long afterward- that segment offered two players in a market that was forecast to offer a mere 100 aircraft sales in the coming 10 years. The key question was whether this apparently small ...

Dave Higdon   |   1st November 2007
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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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Ultra large and ultra long range jets getting bigger than ever.

Eleven years ago- when a prominent airliner maker and an engine manufacturer- decided to launch a joint venture to sell airliners as business jets- the question was whether the market held enough depth for such a player. Not long afterward- that segment offered two players in a market that was forecast to offer a mere 100 aircraft sales in the coming 10 years.

The key question was whether this apparently small aircraft for sale market offered enough depth to support two programs – let alone whether the programs would offer enough depth to win the hearts- minds and dollars of the business aviation prospects. Those prospects already enjoyed choices of aircraft of smaller stature but substantial range at somewhat proximate costs to buy but less to operate.

A decade and nearly 250 airliners-as-corporate-jets later- that question no longer stands. Today the big question asks: “How much bigger can these jets go?” With no less than the Airbus A380- Boeing’s 747-8 and 787 Dreamliner attracting multiple customers- it’s beginning to look like the realization of a line from a well known movie: “If you build it- they will come.”

Yes- it would seem we’ve got a business aviation variation to the baseball “Field of Dreams” – or perhaps “Airfields of Dreams” would be more appropriate. And that’s on top of a strong market for erstwhile large-cabin jets with ultra-long legs – purpose-built business jets well within the “if you have to ask” range in finished price. Airliners as corporate aircraft for sale didn’t actually originate with the launch of Boeing Business Jets in 1996 – nor did they gain missing credibility with the debut of the Airbus Corporate Jet a year later. The late Malcolm Forbes- of Forbes Magazine used a Boeing 727; so did Hugh Hefner- of the Playboy Empire. For years- Air Force One was a Boeing 707; today- it’s a 747-200. Pilot and actor John Travolta has a Boeing 707 in his personal aircraft for sale fleet.

Before this current evolution of ultra-large-cabin jet- governments- corporations and individuals tended to pick up a retired airliner for conversion. Airlines’ previous attempts at selling airliners as business jets for sale worked around the idea of selling unsold slots in the firing order – using people with little or limited understanding of the corporate market. That’s all changed now.

Arguably- the shift started before the airliners segment emerged when traditional makers of corporate aircraft moved into the ultra-dollars market – at least cruise range- if not cabin volume – with a series of purpose-built business jets sporting unparalleled range- technology and amenities.

The ultra-long-range jet emerged into a globe-trotting class of its own as a natural next step in the evolution of large-cabin jets. Two competitors launched that program as well – and sales in this segment- too- exceeded expectations. The result is a segment of business aviation thriving on the combined effects of corporate need- corporate profits and growing personal wealth – in particular- an increase in high-net-worth individuals as well as growing wealth among the upper five percent of the income strata.

With the money to go anywhere- the customers in this segment increasingly choose to eschew the uncertainties and exposure of flying common carrier. They’re voting with their assets by adding an asset capable of taking them anywhere any airline can – and many more places airlines don’t go – with all the privacy- security and convenience of the stretched limo they ride to the airport. So let’s examine what makes up this segment of giants- and the traits that make them appealing at any price.

Clearing the bars for ultras
Essentially- to belong to the ‘ultras’ group- a member must at least clear 80-000 pounds at its maximum take-off weight or offer a maximum range around 5-000 nautical miles. Above these marks we consider the model ultra-large in dimensions or ultra-long-range in leg capability. It is- perhaps- a curious blending of two segments united by price range.

As you’ll see- one recently certificated model fits thanks solely to its range – otherwise- it falls comfortably into the large-cabin segment- well short of clearing the weight bar for an ultra-large and significantly below the price range that unites the rest. Otherwise- this collection includes jets weighing more than 80-000 pounds as ultra-large-cabin business jets for sale- regardless of the maximum-range abilities of the design.

Finished prices for all the jets in this class vary according to the owners’ completion choices. Where we can- we’ll try to quote something nominal; otherwise- we’ll defer to the marketing guys to give you a quote based on your own definitions. For those who can afford the tab- there’s not much you can’t have installed in one of these ultra-large-cabin jets – and- likewise- there’s almost no place you can’t fly to find what you don’t have.

Bars and legs aside- this collection offers the “ultimate” in multiples – ultimate size- ultimate range and ultimate investment.

ACJs in Threes: 318- 319- 320

What started a decade ago as a one-model line today comes across as Airbus-gone-wild. Or trouble in threes- as in the A319- A320- A318 Elite – the original ACJ family members in their original introduction order – and on to the A330- A340- even the behemoth A380.

Growth in the number of what jet sales people call “high net-worth individuals” serves as one of the notable drivers of today’s record-setting business aviation market. These folks aren’t just growing in numbers- they’re growing in wealth – and opting to spend ever more for ever-better perks.

Airbus- meantime- celebrated hitting the Century-milestone of ACJ sales during the recent National Business Aviation Association meeting in Atlanta. Forecasts of sales in 1997 averaged five per year – less than half the demonstrated market. Clearly- Airbus has done better than expectations – particularly when you factor that 30 orders have come in this year alone.

The A320 family holds the majority of those sales – and with good reason – but not all of them. Modelled on the single-aisle family- and as mentioned above- the Airbus Corporate Jet for  line includes: the A319 ACJ- the first of the planemaker’s single-aisle airliners offered to the corporate market; the smaller A318 Elite; and the big brother of the trio- the A320 Prestige.

The Elite offers luxury cabin space for a nominal load of eight people plus crew for trips as long as 4-100 nautical miles. The original ACJ- however- offers a range of up to 6-000 nautical carrying the same nominal load- and the Prestige provides lift for about 30 with the same range as the Elite – about 4-100 nautical.

So far this year (as the company reported in September)- sales of the A320-family corporate aircraft totalled 25- pushing to 100 the total sold since program launch. Prices- of course- vary- according to the base model plus costs for finishing the jet. But in rough numbers- the tabs go something like these: For the A318 Elite- expect to spend $47 million; up to $60-plus million for the A319 while for the A320 Prestige- be prepared to dig deeper. And prepare to be patient; the Airbus backlog is out a couple of years – and you’ll need to allow another 12 to 16 months for a completion center to do its work.

A330- A340
Airbus now offers its two single-deck- twin-aisle jets as business aircraft providing past customers both growth models and more space – as well as the higher degree of safety and redundancy that comes from operating a four-engine jet like the A340 in corporate clothing. Airbus presently reports multiple orders for both.

There’s little you can fit into any other 6-000 square-foot home or office that you can’t have in the nearly 6-000 square feet of space available on the two decks of Airbus’ new super-jumbo- the four-engine A380.

At least one has already been sold for VIP use- and purported floor plans for the corporate A380 show a bedroom suite- two other bedrooms- an exercise area- boardroom- conference and lounge areas- plus a shower-equipped master lavatory- a highly capable galley- crew rest areas and staff seating for about 60.

Why would one ever leave? This one falls under the rubric- “If you have to ask- you can’t afford to ask…” But for this article’s purpose- think upward of $275 million to $300 million- completed.

More information from www.airbus.com


The program that started the ball rolling for real - Boeing Business Jets - launched with the 737-700-based BBJ in 1996 – and just look at what’s happened since. Now boasting three models based on the 737- the BBJs have generated sales of more than 120 units in the 11 years since the initial BBJ’s launch.

The original BBJ (or BBJ1 as it’s known today)- offers a cabin nearly 80 feet in length and the ability to fly about 6-000 nautical miles at a price of about $58 million. The BBJ2 provides a cabin about 20 feet longer and a range of more than 5-600 nautical miles – for around $70 million. The BBJ3- meantime- provides the longest cabin of the three at just over 107 feet but the shortest legs at about 4-400 nautical miles for about $79 million. Modern panels and a new lower-cabin-altitude feature enhance the BBJ line’s popularity.

Boeing Business Jets reported at NBAA that new orders for these models won’t be available to customers until after 2012. Even the market for pre-owned BBJs is robust- with models selling in under a month- generally- and sometimes for more than they originally cost.

It’s no wonder that Boeing Business Jets- like Airbus- offers other airliners as VIP/corporate wings.

747-8 VIP
Like the Airbus A380- this is another double-decker behemoth decked out for the high-flying world of high net-worth individuals- government service and corporate contributions – it’s the 747-8 VIP. Crafted from the upcoming 747-8 airliner now in the works- the VIP version offers nearly 5-700 square feet of floor space spread across three spaces: the full-fuselage-length main deck; an extended upper deck; and a so-called SkyLoft area between the upper deck and the vertical stab.

Capable of flying 9-260 nautical- plus reserves- the 747-8 VIP makes no compromises in connect-the-dots potential. Boeing Business Jets also lays claim to offering the fastest jet in its class- thanks to the 747-8 VIP’s Mach 0.86 cruise abilities. With multiple orders already- Boeing offers the 747-8 VIP as a standard model that rounds out the product line nicely.

787 VIP
Meantime- Boeing holds orders for two VIP variants of its breakthrough new Dreamliner- providing the BBJ partnership with step-up models from the BBJ3 to the 747-8 VIP – all of which offer superlative range and finishing options.

With well over 500 on order- the Dreamliner stands as the most-successful launch of an airliner in industry history. A breakthrough composite airframe- new high-efficiency- low-polluting engines and stand-out operating costs underpin Boeing’s success.

Due to fly before year’s end – a few months late – the 787 Dreamliner offers corporate operators the benefits of those same advanced technologies in a twin with an enormous single deck. The 787-8 VIP- for example- offers more than 2-400 square feet of floor space in an aircraft capable of covering 9-590 nautical miles; the 787-9 VIP ups the floor space by just over 350 square feet- at 2-762 square feet with a range of 9-950 nautical miles.

Boeing Business Jets puts the upper capacity of the Dash-8 variant at 75; the Dash-9 version is listed as a 100-passenger corporate bird.

And finally- in service for more than a decade now- Boeing’s current top twin rounds out the product line of Boeing Business Jets. Variants offer ultra-long range in a wide- tall cabin- for those unwilling to wait on the 787- which boasts the largest backlog ever for a new airliner.

More information from www.boeing.com/bbj

Global 5000 & Global Express XRS

One of two programs in the industry that moved the large-cabin jet into the next logical evolutionary step was the original Global Express launched nearly 15 years ago. Positively svelte and economical next to the airliners in this group- one of today’s derivatives- the Global 5000- boasts a cabin of more than 42 feet in length- 8.2 feet wide and 6.3 feet tall.

Boasting a range of 4-800 nautical miles- the Global 5000 provides operators ability to connect with a large number of major city pairs scattered across the continents- not least because the Global 5000’s runway requirements – the best in this class – means greater flexibility in pairing airports for origin and destination. The $38 million- approximately- required to own a Global 5000 is also the best in class.

Meantime- the slightly larger cabin of the Global Express XRS (around 48 feet in length) and higher gross weight make for a business aircraft capable of covering more than 6-100 nautical miles.

The trade off is an aircraft that needs more than 6-100 feet of runway and sells at a price about $11 million higher at just under $49 million.

More information from www.aero.bombardier.com

DASSAULT aviation:
Falcon 7X

This newcomer stands as the exception to the rule; a jet at home in this category despite a size-and-weight profile that begs otherwise.

Stretching 46 feet long- 7.7 feet wide and 6.2 feet tall- the 7X comes in as the smallest and lightest in this group. But the Honeywell-based EASy panel- fuel-efficient power in the form of three PW307A engines- advanced aerodynamics and first-ever-in-a-business jet fly-by-wire controls combine to deliver a svelte aircraft with great legs. The 7X’s ability to fly more than 6-000 nautical miles secured its place in this class. Certificated earlier this year- the tri-jet’s $40 million-plus price makes it competitive with a number of others in this group.

More information from www.dassaultfalcon.com

G550- G500

The other pioneer in the ultra-long-range class- Gulfstream- helped establish this segment with its GV back at the start of the 1990s- a time when many observers were posing questions about how much farther business aviation could grow in equipment capabilities. Just a few years later- Boeing/GE and Airbus answered the question with a simple- “Farther.”

But mostly farther in size- because the GV offered as a major operational point the ability to cross six time zones in about 12 hours of flying. Today’s G550 remains a leader in range capabilities- able to connect points 6-700 nautical miles apart. The 50-foot-long cabin provides a comfortable- roomy area for working- entertaining or resting- while up front- standard equipment includes enhanced vision equipment. The G550 delivers good value for its $47 million price.

The G500 sports the same airframe- systems and engines- but with a smaller fuel capacity- a lighter take-off weight- better runway numbers – but a bit less range. Nevertheless- the 5-800 nautical mile legs- while shorter- don’t radically limit operators on trip potential. The $39 million price makes the G500 one of the best values in this group.

More information from www.gulfstream.com

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