Gulfstream recorded a robust performance last year on the back of continued strong demand for its G650/ER, output of which will rise again in 2016. The ultra-long-range aircraft is bucking the trend at the top end of the business jet sector, where falling international demand has triggered a decline in new orders for most models in the category. Speaking on a full-year earnings call on 27 January, Phebe Novakovic, chief executive of Gulfstream parent General Dynamics, indicated that G650/ER production had been increased in the second half of 2015 and will rise again in 2016 "to reflect current demand and our sizable [two-year] backlog”. That rate “is clearly sustainable for this year and next”, she says.
Gulfstream’s other large-cabin models – the G550 and G450 – fared less well in 2015, prompting the airframer to cut output of both. “We've been reducing the G450 very incrementally for the last seven or eight quarters in line with a fall in demand and what we predicted in demand,” Novakovic says. “We reduced the G550 production rate, again, in line with demand." She says the move is also part of the company’s transition to its new large-cabin duo, the G500 and G600. The clean-sheet Mach 0.90 aircraft were launched in 2014 and are scheduled to enter service in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Gulfstream stresses the aircraft will complement and not replace the G450 and G550. Overall, Gulfstream delivered 112 large-cabin jets and 35 midsize jets – the G280 and G150 – last year. This compares with 115 large-cabin and 29 midsize aircraft in 2014.
This year Gulfstream forecasts shipments of 104 G650/ER/G550/G450s, and 34 G280/G150s. “So [we predict shipments will be] down eight large and one medium-cabin [on 2015] – with a better mix, I might add,” says Novakovic. Gulftream’s order backlog in 2015 grew by $200 million to $13.3 billion, General Dynamics says. The company also recorded a book-to-bill ratio of 1:1. The overall performance of General Dynamics Aerospace unit, which includes business aviation services provider Jet Aviation, was robust in 2015. Revenues for the 12 month period climbed 2.3% to $8.85 billion and operating earnings rose by nearly 6% to $1.71 billion.
Gulfstream Aerospace's first Gulfstream G500 test aircraft, T1, has completed flutter testing. The second test article, T2, finished climatic chamber testing at the McKinley Climatic Laboratory in Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, US. Under the aircraft's flight test programme, T1 carried out flutter tests in more than 50 flights. T1 recorded more than 320 flight hours since its first flight on 18 May 2015, its longest flight duration being five hours. It has reached a maximum speed of Mach 0.999 and a maximum altitude of 53,000ft. The aircraft is undergoing additional test activities including envelope expansion, air data system testing, aero performance, brakes and field performance, handling qualities and flight controls. Gulfstream's second and third G500 aircraft (T2 and T3) joined the flight test programme in November after completing their initial flights. Under climate chamber testing, T2 endured hot temperatures of 55°C for three days and -40°C of cold temperatures for two days.
Gulfstream programmes engineering and test senior vice-president Dan Nale said:"The successful completion of climatic chamber testing assures us that the aircraft will be prepared to meet the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) rigorous certification process and extreme real-world conditions our customers will experience when they fly the G500." Gulfstream's third G500 flight test aircraft, T3, is the primary test bed for the new symmetry flight deck, which will innovate cockpit design, integration, functionality, ergonomics and aesthetics. The aircraft will also calculate ice-protection system performance, landing gear and nose wheel steering operation, environmental control system performance, as well as the cabin pressure control system and community noise testing. Gulfstream plans to include two more aircraft, T4 and P1, in the G500 flight-test programme. Part of Gulfstream's new clean-sheet family aircraft, the G500 expects to obtain type certification from the FAA and European Aviation Safety Agency in 2017. The aircraft is scheduled to enter service in 2018. G600, also a part of clean-sheet family, will enter service in 2019.