Falcon to kick-start super midsize sector

posted on 11th June 2018

The latest model on Dassault’s 2000 platform offers category-leading performance, space and comfort, reports Martin Roebuck 

The latest member of Dassault Aviation’s Falcon jet family, the 2000S, looks set to redefine the super midsize market when deliveries begin in the first quarter of 2013. The aircraft is designed with a shorter range than current Falcon aircraft, though it can still fly across the US from coast to coast, from Paris to Dubai or from Beijing to Moscow with fuel to spare, and costs comfortably less than its cousins (see table 1). Yet its spacious cabin, high specification and category-leading performance could pose a serious threat to competitors such as the Challenger 300, Gulfstream G280 and Hawker 4000.

“We have a good historical position in aircraft offering more than 3,000 nautical miles range, with the Falcon 50, the 900 and then the 2000, but many customers don’t need a $30 million, 4,000nm aircraft,” explains Olivier Villa, Dassault’s senior VP, civil aircraft. “The basic 2000 airframe is ideal and the large, flat-floor cabin has been very popular, but it was important to propose something new.”

Villa foresees significant interest in the new 2000S for the intra-regional rather than the intercontinental market. Although the company does not break down orders by aircraft model, he reveals that it is booked out for almost two years on both the long-range 7X and the 2000S. “While we wish the overall market was better, customers are coming over from our competitors,” Villa says.

The 2000 platform was introduced in the mid-1990s, with the initial Falcon 2000 offering a range of 3,000nm. This was derived from Dassault’s 900 tri-engine design, but the shorter range that the company now had in mind meant its designers could shed the third engine, bringing benefits in terms of maintenance and operating cost. The rear fuselage was redesigned to improve aerodynamic efficiency and the wing was modified, with the inboard slats removed.

A 2000EX variant, with new Pratt & Whitney 308C turbofan engines and additional fuel tanks, entered into service in 2004 and had an increased range of 3,800nm. The LX derivative, which saw its first deliveries in 2009, incorporated winglets that further extended the range to the iconic 4,000nm mark and the EX ceased production.

“So the 2000S is not a clean-sheet design, but required further re-engineering,” says Dassault communications manager Vadim Feldzer. “Our goal was to design a new entry-level aircraft, using the same platform and retaining the same cabin size for the mid-sized segment and burning less fuel.”

At $26 million, the 2000S is cheaper than the rest of the Falcon range but more expensive than its immediate rivals, penalised partly by the strength of the euro. The question was how Dassault could add value.

“Customers don’t come to us on price; they buy because they are looking for advanced performance and quality. But at a price point 10% higher than the competitors, we knew we had to deliver 20% better performance,” Feldzer says.

Crosshead: Military crossover

Dassault claims a head start in achieving good performance from its commercial aircraft because of the group’s experience in designing the Mirage and Rafale supersonic jet fighters. No other manufacturer, it says, has the same engineering teams building military and business aircraft, the same factories assembling and the same test pilots flying them. The group may have separate Falcon and Defence operating divisions, but technology transfer between them is relatively seamless.

The Falcon jets have a high strength-to-weight ratio thanks to their aluminium monocoque construction, supplemented by titanium castings and carbon fibre components. New technology is not used simply for the sake of it, however. Villa, an engineer by background, explains that composite structures can be more complex and sometimes have to be thicker than metal. “They don’t always bring you a benefit,” he says.

Nevertheless, its military heritage has given Dassault an unrivalled understanding of aerodynamics. The design of Falcon aircraft is commonly acknowledged as one of the “cleanest”, most drag-free in the industry. The wing structure and fuselage shaping gives the existing 2000 model the ability to fly slowly at low altitude, offering take-off and landing performance close to that of a twin-engine turboprop performance, while cruising fast and economically.

In designing the 2000S, Dassault saw its biggest technical challenge as further improving short-field capability, and took the route of incorporating inboard wing slats as used on the 900LX. With the fully slatted wing, large winglets and a lighter construction, the new model generates yet greater lift at take-off.

At maximum take-off weight of 18,688kg, the 2000S needs a take-off distance of 1,360 metres, 10-20% less than its closest competitors. Nose-up auto braking reduces landing distance to 980 metres, and even less on steep approach, which will qualify the aircraft to use London City Airport in line with the rest of the already-certified Falcon range. The 2000S can climb to 41,000ft (12,500 metres), has a maximum certified altitude of 47,000ft (14,325 metres) in 19 minutes and will fly at up to mach 0.862 (970 kph or 520 knots).

The 308C engine is retained, but Pratt & Whitney has modified it with a new Talon II combustor that emits 40% lower NOx emissions than required by CAEP/6 regulations, giving the aircraft the greenest footprint in its class. Highly efficient thrust reversers and good aerodynamics give a claimed fuel burn advantage of up to 65% against similarly sized aircraft, and typically 10% less than planes one size down with smaller cabins. The engine also has a reduced maintenance requirement.

A seeming technicality in the performance figures of the 2000S, but one that makes the aircraft much more flexible in operation, is that the maximum landing weight of 17,826kg is much closer than usual to the maximum take-off weight. This means an operator can refuel at its home base then make a short hop to pick up clients before continuing on its revenue flight, or can pick up passengers at separate locations before embarking on the main leg. Hence London-Paris-Dubai or San Francisco-Los Angeles-New York trips are possible. Range without intermediate refuelling is 3,050nm, compared with 1,750nm for the Challenger 300 and 1,625nm for the G280.

One test independent pilot described the cockpit as “the best civil aircraft cockpit in the world – and the one with the best man-machine interface”. His verdict on the 2000S was: “A joy to fly.”

The aircraft’s Enhanced Avionics System (EASy II), developed with Honeywell, offers an improved navigational package giving a wider range of approaches and reduced minima. Next-generation ADS-B Out air traffic management provides significant routing advantages. Improved symbology using the SmartView synthetic vision system, together with an enhanced vision system for night flying and conditions of poor visibility, increases pilots’ situational awareness.

The EASy II configuration is unique to Dassault and Villa is especially proud of the graphical interface. “You can build a flight plan by pointing and clicking on a map. It’s not a heads-down process over a keyboard, and gives good access to both crew members,” he says.

He adds that the entire cockpit received considerable attention from the designers, with the focus on comfort and durability, soft lines and noise absorption.

 

Crosshead: Extra elbow room

 

The 2000S is fractionally shorter than its super midsize Gulfstream and Challenger competitors, with a slightly greater wingspan, but has more generous cabin proportions (see table 2) with 18 large windows to admit as much light as possible.

The 6ft 2in high cabin (1.88 metres) with flat floor allows easy movement down the aisle while the 7ft 7in width (2.34 metres) is “especially accommodating at elbow level – a godsend on long working trips,” Dassault says.

A Rockwell Collins cabin management system puts remote control of temperature, interior lighting, electric window shades, video playback and other functions in passengers’ hands thanks to an iPhone app. The 2000S features an Aircell Axxess II satcom phone system and a media centre for viewing Blu-Ray media on a widescreen monitor on the forward cabin bulkhead or individual seat monitors.

BMW Designworks USA, which was also responsible for the 7X design, has formulated a standard 10-passenger layout incorporating a large forward galley, dedicated cabin attendant rest seat, passenger wardrobe, galley/cabin dividing door, full-sized rear bathroom and in-flight accessible baggage area. There are three choices of colour scheme, but although the overall spec is high, this is the only flexibility Dassault offers with the 2000S.

“The 2000LX has whatever configuration the customer requires, but here we fixed the layout so we could optimise the production line,” Villa says. “We’ve gone with the most popular floor plan and within that, we have worked to provide the best design we could. The customer may feel he has a right to specify his own configuration when he’s investing $25 million, but we needed greater efficiency in the completion process. There is a lot of cost in making each plane different.”

For historical reasons, Dassault produces its in-house components at various sites around France, with 50% of parts insourced from third-party suppliers. Fuselages are assembled at Bordeaux and the green aircraft are transported to the Dassault Falcon completion centre at Little Rock, Arkansas for fitting out.

The first stages of the 2000S project were carried out in some secrecy, and first flight tests had already been carried out three months before the aircraft was formally announced at last year’s EBACE. Dassault announced in April that it remains on track for certification by the end of this year, after racking up almost 300 flight hours in more than 100 flights during its first year of flight testing.

The first part of the test campaign included manoeuvres to demonstrate the handling qualities of the 2000S, including stability, stalls, pitch, roll rates and failure mode tests, as well as take-off with engine failure. “The rigorous test flight programme has confirmed the expected performance of the aircraft,” a spokesman says.

Dassault claims direct operating costs for the new Falcon jet will be lower than for competing aircraft and for almost all those in the next class down, chiefly thanks to its low fuel burn.

Residual value must also be taken into account, the company points out. Falcon aircraft have consistently held their value better than rivals over the first six years from new, regardless of market conditions. “You can be certain your investment won’t depreciate the same way as others,” Villa says.

A longstanding reputation for after-sales support may be a factor in this. Of the 2,300 Falcons produced since 1965, 1,900 are still in active service (spread incidentally among no fewer than 1,100 operators, with an average of just 1.7 aircraft each). Of this active fleet, 43% are legacy Falcon 10s, 20s and 50s. Yet Dassault claims it can support 98% of maintenance requirements, and still holds spare parts for planes whose production ceased 30 years ago. Around $50 million worth of inventory was added in 2011, taking the total to $750 million.

Two-thirds of the installed Falcon fleet is based in North America, but there has been an inevitable eastward migration in recent years. Of 438 aircraft delivered since 2006, 54% were destined for Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Australasia.

There are currently five Dassault-owned service centres worldwide and 28 in all, and the newer operations are following this geographical shift. Dassault Falcon Aircraft Services was established in Shanghai in March to help support the company’s rapidly growing Chinese fleet. It is working in partnership with Hawker Pacific in the new location, the two firms having collaborated for many years in Singapore. Dassault has its own dedicated support in Hong Kong, and Beijing is to follow later this year. Mumbai-based Air Works was appointed as an authorised service centre for India in 2011.

Just 63 Falcon aircraft were delivered last year compared with 95 in 2010, but orders have begun to move in the right direction, with 36 net new orders in 2011. Cancellations had outnumbered new orders in 2010 to leave the net figure at minus nine.

China remains a strong market, and Dassault signed a memorandum of understanding with Minsheng Financial Leasing last October for 10 Falcon 2000S aircraft as well as 10 7Xs, in addition to a firm order for five 7X aircraft placed earlier in the year. Although China’s growth rate is now slowing, there has been no impact on orders as yet, Villa says.

Globally, he sees more activity than a year ago in the large-cabin market, but says that for older aircraft, prices are still “going the wrong way”, forcing owners to hold on to their assets. “Companies need to change and renew their fleets; they’ve been waiting four years. The need is there and the profits are now there,” he comments.