Business jet maker Gulfstream said demand remains firm for its biggest and farthest flying business jets, even as economic weakness hits key markets around the world. Industry experts have voiced concern about a potential scarcity of buyers for the wide variety of business aircraft available now and coming to market, which could mean an oversupply in the next few years, especially if economies weaken. But Gulfstream said it expects 2016 sales to be about the same as 2015, and that demand for large, long-range jets is reviving as large corporations renew their fleets after the U.S. economic downturn.
U.S. and Asia sales are relatively strong, despite weakness in China, Scott Neal, senior vice president of global marketing at Gulfstream, said in an interview at the National Business Aviation Association conference. “We’re seeing good activity in Western Europe and the Middle East,” even though Latin America and Russia have slowed. “Despite what you’re reading about slowing conditions in different areas, there is still a good amount of pipeline activity,” he said, referring to deals in the works. Gulfstream also does not plan to alter its G150 aircraft in response to competitor Embraer’s decision to boost the range of its competing Legacy 450 jet. Embraer Executive Jets Chief Executive Marco Tulio Pellegrino said on Monday that the Legacy 450’s range would be stretched to 2,900 nautical miles from 2,575 to meet growing demand Embraer sees for longer range jets at the smaller end of the market. Gulfstream’s G150 has a range of 3,000 nautical miles. “We’re not going to respond or make changes based upon what others may do,” Neal said. “We have full confidence in the current product line.”
The first test aircraft for Gulfstream's clean-sheet G500 landed at the Henderson Executive Airport, just southeast of Las Vegas, a few days ago in preparation for the National Business Aircraft Association's Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition. Despite fighting a 75-knot headwind, the G500 completed the 1,630 nm flight from the company's headquarters in Savannah, Georgia to Las Vegas in 4 hours and 36 minutes, averaging Mach 0.85 at 45,000 feet. The crew consisted of two flight test pilots and two flight test engineers. Since its first flight in May, the G500 has accumulated more than 160 flight test hours in 44 flights. Though the targeted max speed for the airplane is Mach 0.90, the G500 test bed has already flown up to Mach 0.995. At Mach 0.90, Gulfstream says the airplane will be able to reach 3,800 nm. Slowing down to Mach 0.85, the range can be extended to 5,000 nm.
In addition to the actual flight testing, about 41,000 hours of combined testing in several ground labs have been completed to date. Test pilots, FAA pilots and customers have also had a chance to try out the airplane in a full motion simulator developed by FlightSafety. This is the first time Gulfstream has incorporated a full motion sim in the flight test stage. The cockpit features Gulfstream's active control sidesticks, which control the airplane through a fly-by-wire system based on that installed in the G650. The G500 and G650 also share the same large cabin windows. The Symmetry flight deck, powered by Honeywell's Primus Epic system, incorporates 10 touch screen interfaces, including some on the overhead panels. The interfaces have triple redundancy to allow for dispatch with two functioning units in case one fails.