India is emerging as a promising market for global manufacturers of commercial jets
Dilip Kumar Mekala
India’s market for the business jets is expanding constantly. With exponential growth of the civil aviation sector, many corporations have been looking at acquiring business jets for their commercial needs. Business jets that are available in the market are also catered to the highly covered special missions for use by the government and other intelligence agencies. The aircraft that are used for such special missions come from a varied range – turboprop aircraft to high-end business jets – with added intelligence equipment onboard. Air shows like Aero India in Bengaluru and India Aviation Show in Hyderabad provide a perfect opportunity for global manufacturers who are invested in the business of these jets.
The manufacturer of Rafale and Mirage aircraft, Dassault Aviation has bigger market potential from the sales of its business jets in India, even when compared to the mammoth defence contracts like Rafale. Dassault’s main focus here is primarily on its Falcon business jets. According to the company, Falcon business jets are extremely popular in India because of their large cabin and the ability to fly long distances. In recent times, the company is focussing on 7,410 km range Falcon 2000LXS widebody twinjet.
“Dassault is the Indian market leader for large cabin, long range aircraft, with 22 aircraft (as of March 2016) in service and several more on order. This position stems in part from the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) long experience with Dassault fighters, whose advanced technologies, notably digital flight control, served as the basis for that on the Falcon 7X,” stated the company. Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier said, “We expect the country’s accelerating economic growth to translate into rising Falcon sales going forward”. He added, “No other business jet line is more suited to local requirements, whether it be in terms of cabin design, flying performance, fuel economy or versatility, than Falcon.”
Dassault’s popular Falcon 2000 twinjet – now approaching the 600th production mark – accounts for the largest portion of the present Indian fleet. Sales are currently being driven by the Falcon 2000LXS, the newest edition in the 2000 line, which offers a short-field capability comparable to smaller midsize and super midsize business jet models but with a range and comfort level far better than these aircraft. The Falcon 2000 line has recently been certified to carry Dassault’s new FalconEye Combined Vision System option, allowing the LXS and the shorter range Falcon 2000S entry level jet to be offered with head up display, the first in the industry to meld synthetic and enhanced vision capabilities.
The majority of new Indian Falcon orders, however, are for longer range models like the Falcon 7X and the new ultra long range Falcon 8X that can fly non-stop from anywhere in India to destinations such as London City Airport that are typically off limits to big business jets. The company boasts that 11,945 km range Falcon 8X features the quietest and most comfortable cabin in business aviation. The 8X offers all the advanced technological features of the popular Falcon 7X, from which it is derived, including an advanced digital flight control suite. It is also certified with the FalconEye Combined Vision System. In 2016, an Indian customer took delivery of 8X.
Dassault also predicts strong demand among Indian customers for the all-new Falcon 5X very large body twin, currently in development. Set to enter service in 2020, the 9,630 km 5X plans to offer the largest cabin cross-section of any business jet and the lowest ownership and operating costs in its class. “The unmatched ability of Falcons to combine short and long haul flights and fly out of short hard-to-reach airstrips with full range performance – even at high altitudes and high temperature conditions – make them perfect for Indian operating conditions,” emphasised Trappier.
India remains a steady market for Gulfstream, with more than 20 Gulfstream aircraft operating in the country. The majority of these aircraft are in the large-cabin category. This includes Gulfstream types such as the G450, G550, G650 and G650ER. Commenting on Gulfstream’s India plans, the company spokesperson said, “Gulfstream continues to see India as an important market in the coming year. For more than a quarter century, Gulfstream has earned a reputation in India as the preferred provider of private jets to many of the country’s business leaders. The company continues to expand its commitment to the region by increasing marketing and product support activities to serve customers”.
In January 2017, Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation announced the company’s G650ER managed to fly from Ohio to Shanghai in a record time. The G650ER took off from Ohio’s John Glenn Columbus International Airport and landed at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport 14 hours and 35 minutes later, covering 12,501 kilometres at an average cruise speed of Mach 0.85. Following that flight, the aircraft flew 11,377 km from Taipei Taoyuan International Airport to Arizona’s Scottsdale Airport, cruising at Mach 0.90 the entire trip. The total flight time was just 10 hours and 57 minutes. “The G650ER is the only business jet that could make the demanding trip from Columbus to Shanghai nonstop,” said Scott Neal, senior vice president, worldwide sales, Gulfstream. “When you talk to customers, what many of them need is more time. These records demonstrate the G650ER’s ability to give our customers just that. We know time is precious, and opportunities are best met when customers arrive quickly and refreshed”, he added. In January 2015, the G650ER completed the farthest flight in its history. The aircraft travelled 14,835 km nonstop from Singapore to Las Vegas in just over 14 hours.
G650ER features a large purpose-built business-jet cabin, with a number of amenities to make life on board comfortable and more productive, including wider seats, the largest windows, the quietest cabin sound levels, the lowest cabin altitude and 100 per cent fresh air. The G650ER and its sister ship, the G650, hold more than 60 records combined.
Gulfstream G600 completed its first flight in December 2016, officially kicking off the aircraft’s flight-test programme. Two additional G600 test aircraft have been inducted into the flight-test centre in anticipation of their flights in 2017. “Launching the G600’s flight-test programme is a milestone for us and our customers, who have guided the vision for this aircraft from the beginning,” said Mark Burns, president, Gulfstream. “We look forward to delivering this aircraft to them in 2018. Today’s flight, which went flawlessly, represents a significant step forward in the journey to certification and delivery.”
The biggest market share for the turboprop aircraft in India is owned by Textron Aviation’s Beechcraft Corporation. King Air 350ER is the most popular among their business jets. Along with King Air 350ER, King Air 250 and King Air C90GTx represent around 80 per cent of the Indian business turboprop market. “We are seeing increased demand from clients across the globe for aircraft that provide flexibility of use, and this is particularly the case in India where there is often a wide range of mission profiles for a single operator,” said Chris Bogaars, vice president of international sales, Asia-Pacific, Textron Aviation. “Having a broad product line-up spanning jets, turboprops and pistons allows us to meet our customers’ needs for adaptable aircraft solutions. With nearly 80 turboprops and 70 business jets in the region, Textron Aviation’s brands are well-known, well-proven and well-supported in India,” said another Textron official, adding, “We expect continued growth in business aviation as India’s overall economy continues to prosper, and we have developed aircraft like the Beechcraft King Air 350ER to position ourselves as solution-providers for Indian operators”.
Beechcraft’s King Air models are particularly popular in India as a result of their durability, reliability, fuel efficiency and ability to operate in even the most extreme conditions. The King Air 350ER aircraft is a standard extended-range (ER) airplane, which includes additional fuel capacity and increased capability landing gear allowing for 4630 km range. The aircraft’s interior configuration can be customised based on the user needs, and the large cabin provides ample room for the installed airline style seating. The King Air 350ER can remain airborne for over 12 hours and land with 45 minutes of fuel reserve.
With advanced payload and performance enhancements, the King Air C90GTx is part of a long line of hard-working turboprops. Due to its greater range and efficiency, this entry level twin–turboprop aircraft remains a popular choice in India. The King Air C90GTx now comes standard with a fully integrated Collins Pro Line 21™ avionics system – the same sophisticated system found in larger commercial aviation jets. Another popular choice in India is Beechcraft’s Baron G58 – a twin-engine piston aircraft. The Baron G58 offers a good performance and range/payload capabilities in its segment. It features a premium cabin, including flexible seating that allows for seating of two, four or six people, with the option to reconfigure and remove seats to accommodate mission needs and large baggage items. Its flight deck includes fully integrated Garmin G1000® avionics with a GFC 700 flight control system and new GWX 68 color weather radar.
The year 2017 will witness the final certification and the start of deliveries of the much talked about Pilatus PC-24 business jet. Last year, PC-24 was exhibited in a business aviation convention in Orlando, US. The test flight programme, which is currently underway, has three prototypes. The company emphasised that the PC-24 is a versatile aircraft and apparently the first business jet in the world to come equipped as standard with a cargo door, and the kind of performance specification that allows it to operate in and out of very short runways or even unmade strips. Oscar J. Schwenk, chairman of the board of directors of Pilatus, said on the progress of the PC-24, “Our two PC-24 prototypes have completed a combined total of over 1000 hours and almost 600 flights. The data collected so far indicates that our super versatile jet is likely to perform even better than previously announced. All I can say for the time being is that the PC-24 will undoubtedly be two things: unique and outstanding, as you have come to expect from Pilatus. Updated performance data will be published at next year’s European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE 2017) in Geneva.”
Both PC-24 prototypes are currently completing a rigorous programme of test flights. The second prototype (P02) has been based in the US where it has undergone hot and cold weather trials plus tests on the avionics and autopilot. Meanwhile, the first prototype, P01, has been undergoing further aerodynamic testing in Europe. An important milestone was achieved with the aerodynamic design freeze in October 2016.
Another aircraft from the Pilatus’ stable that can be used as business jet is the PC-12 NG. Speaking about the aircraft, Jim Roche, vice president, government aviation & deputy CEO, Pilatus Aircraft Ltd, said, “The versatile PC-12 NG performs many roles worldwide, including executive transport, commuter, medevac, police and border surveillance, cargo transport, military liaison, and regional airliner. The PC-12 fleet has amassed more than five million flight hours of operating experience, including thousands of hours in some of the world’s harshest environments”. A large number of air forces and government organisations (such as the US Air Force, Finnish Air Force, Bulgarian Air Force, Swiss Air Force, Gendamería Nacional Argentina, Australian Royal Flying Doctors etc.) use the PC-12 to fulfil specific missions. Military applications include: cargo transport, air ambulance, VIP transport, para dropping (using the unique utility door option) etc.
Embraer Executive Jets announced an order in March 2016 for a new entry-level business jet Phenom 100E from an undisclosed customer based in India. “The Phenom 100E has proven itself to be a very agile aircraft that is capable of taking off and landing on short runways, while fuel economy helps keep operating costs low,” said Claudio Camelier, vice-president of sales for Embraer Executive Jets in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. “This order takes the Embraer Executive Jets aircraft registered in India to 22, across six aircraft types.” Phenom 100E is one of the popular jets in the entry-level segment with the latest generation technology, a new style concept, premium comfort, performance and reliability. To date, over 330 Phenom 100 and 100E jets have been delivered for customers worldwide.
In October 2016, Embraer Executive Jets unveiled a new version of its Legacy 650 large business jet, the Legacy 650E. Featuring automation and technology updates, the aircraft, which already has exceptional operational costs and the largest cabin in its class, now carries an unprecedented 10-year or 10,000-flight hour warranty, which is apparently the longest in the business jet industry. The entry into service is scheduled for 2017.
“As a testament to our confidence in the Legacy 650’s heritage of robustness and near-perfect dispatch reliability, this new aircraft carries the longest warranty available in the business jet industry,” said Marco Tulio Pellegrini, president & CEO, Embraer Executive Jets. “Whether for commercial or private operations, there is no large-cabin aircraft that is more economical, durable and comfortable. This is truly a well-rounded value proposition.” With a restyled seat upholstery, the Legacy 650E’s spacious cabin features three distinct cabin zones with ample privacy, plus the exclusive option for a separate crew lavatory in the forward cabin.
Refinements to the aircraft fight deck include the Synthetic Vision System (SVS), as part of the latest Primus Elite Advanced Features (PEAF) from Honeywell, which also includes traffic collision avoidance system symbology and XM ground-based weather information to the moving map, providing pilots with enhanced situational awareness. In addition to the PEAF, the Legacy 650E also comes with autothrottle as standard equipment, improving the level of automation and reducing the cockpit workload. These technologies complement the proven Legacy 650E avionics system, which is compliant with all next-generation airspace mandates and requirements. Besides that, two iPads with mounting systems are available in the cockpit, enabling pilots to enjoy a friendlier interface, easier updates and a full range of other tools to support their operation. These features reduce cockpit workload and create a more intuitive environment with the technological conveniences that pilots desire.
Bombardier Aerospace has a significant presence in India, notable among these are two Global 5,000 long-range business jets in service with the IAF. The company has also showcased many of its jets in the country such as Global 6000, Challenger 605, Learjet 75 etc. “India represents huge potential for business aviation,” said Nilesh Pattanayak, regional vice president, sales, Asia-Pacific. “As the economy grows and the need for global and regional corporate travel increases in the region, the value of a business jet is now well established. Our Global aircraft family is the market leader in India”. He added, “It’s an exciting time for business aviation in India, and we are playing our part in connecting India’s business leaders with the rest of the world by providing the ultimate tools to improve their efficiency”.
Bombardier also showcases several of its special mission aircraft during the air shows in India. For over 40 years, Bombardier has provided governments and governmental agencies around the world with over 300 modified aircraft that meet the most demanding mission requirements. Whether it’s a C4ISR aircraft, maritime patrol aircraft, airway calibration or VIP Platform, Bombardier’s Learjet, Challenger and Global family of jets remain popular choice for turboprop aircraft.
In November 2016, Bombardier Business Aircraft announced that its latest aircraft in the Global 7000 programme completed the successful maiden flight of its first flight test vehicle (FTV1). With the flight test programme, the newest member of Bombardier’s flagship Global aircraft family paves its way for the entry into service in the second half of 2018. “The first flight is the culmination of an incredible amount of knowledge and experience from our dedicated employees, partners and suppliers,” said David Coleal, president, Bombardier Business Aircraft. “This is a very proud moment for Bombardier and confirms the Global 7000 aircraft programme development is on schedule. It is the industry’s most innovative and uniquely designed business jet and the only aircraft on the market to offer four living spaces for unparalleled comfort and flexibility, creating an unforgettable experience for our customers. The Global 7000 business jet’s impressive capabilities promise to establish a whole new category for large business jets,” he added.
“It was very exciting to see our Global 7000 aircraft take to the skies,” said François Caza, vice president, product development and chief engineer, Bombardier Product Development Engineering. “Our world-class product development team, supported by our suppliers, followed our rigorous first flight readiness process, which included systems, structures and aerodynamics technical reviews, as well as the extensive use of test rigs and state-of-the-art simulation. The successful conclusion of this process clears the way for the start of our comprehensive flight test programme leading to certification.”