Mark Burns, President at Gulfstream, explains how the company is adapting to the COVID-compliant world and how it is heading for one of its best years in quite a while
Many of us are emerging into a COVID-compliant world. How is Gulfstream adapting?
Now that the world is slowly and cautiously emerging from pandemic-related travel restrictions, we are finding increasing opportunities to connect in person by taking our aircraft directly to customers and potential customers. While we do this, our top priority is to continue to protect the health and safety of our employees and customers. Fortunately, just one of the many benefits of business aviation is that it helps us make these in-person connections – we did this not too long ago by taking the G700 directly to our launch customer, Qatar Executive, in Doha, then followed that with a visit to Paris, for customers to see the G700 there, in a very safe, controlled environment. We have been doing these kinds of intimate events for more than a year now, as COVID-19 protocols have allowed. We have received a high level of interest and very good feedback on both the events and our aircraft.
Your latest product, the G700 is moving toward service entry. Where are you are in the certification and flight trials process and when do you anticipate first customer delivery?
The G700 flight test programme is progressing very well, as it has since first flight on 14 February 2020. The aircraft is performing even better than expected, both in terms of performance and the interior. We took the fully outfitted G700 to customers in Qatar and Paris – these were the aircraft’s first international flights, and we set two city-pair speed records, from Savannah to Doha and Doha to Paris. This is the aircraft we are using to test every aspect of the interior and, inside the cabin, the environment is flawless. The G700 cabin is Gulfstream’s largest yet, and on those international flights it proved immensely comfortable and reliable. To date, the flight test programme is practically ‘squawk’ free.
We are also finding improvements in the G700’s performance during the flight test programme. This summer, we announced a lower cabin altitude and this commitment to continuous improvement is a hallmark of everything we do at Gulfstream.
We anticipate customer deliveries beginning in the fourth quarter of 2022.
Four of the eleven people listed on the ‘Leadership Bios’ page on the Gulfstream website are women. You personally are unusual in leading the company at which you started out in the industry, so how has inclusivity and opportunity changed at Gulfstream in that time?
Fostering a respectful and inclusive culture at Gulfstream is incredibly important to us and helps ensure we are able to recruit, hire and retain the very best talent in the industry. Our customer base and marketplace have become increasingly more diverse since I started my career at Gulfstream, almost 40 years ago, and we have evolved as well. I am immensely proud of the diversity in our leadership team and our employee base around the world.
We spoke in Orlando a couple of years ago, when you explained that the GIV was your favourite Gulfstream. Is it still special to you?
I will always have a soft spot for the GIV because I started on that programme’s development as an engineer, saw it through entry into service and was closely involved with customers around the world as the GIV fleet grew. I have been a part of ten product launches in my career at Gulfstream, and what really stands out for me is that every new product has raised the bar for safety, technology and innovation. Every new generation, the Gulfstream team develops aircraft that don’t just build on the performance and innovation of their predecessors but introduce advancements that create new possibilities.
What’s your favourite airplane that’s not a Gulfstream? Why?
I’m obviously biased, but there’s nothing better than a Gulfstream.
Gulfstream and its competitors now offer aircraft with half-world range, so is the next step to go faster? Can we expect Gulfstream to go supersonic, and sustainable, anytime in the near future?
It’s important to remember that in our large-cabin aircraft, the G500, G600, G650, G650ER and G700, our customers can already fly at nine-tenths the speed of sound, and they do that on a regular basis. As for supersonic, we have looked at the business case and have not defined one that is attached to either our customers or our company at this time.
Sustainability presents a lot of opportunities, and, as you’ve heard me say before, we were vanguards in our industry with our commitment to sustainable aviation fuel – the G700 city-speed record from Savannah to Doha was made on SAF, and we’ve applied carbon offsets for both the Savannah to Doha and Doha to Paris flights. Approaching decreased fuel emissions through advanced aerodynamics and highly efficient engines is another major area of focus. Take the G500 and G600, for example. They both fly faster than the G450 and G550 and feature larger cabins, but at the same time, they offer as much as 32% improvement in fuel efficiency.
Regardless of international ambitions for aviation to become carbon neutral by 2050, reducing emissions is an imperative. Gulfstream is an important advocate of SAF, but what more can be done?
It is important to take a holistic approach to sustainability, and we are doing just that. Our sustainability vision encompasses three pillars – energy and emissions; operations and culture; and learning. Our focus on improvements in energy and emissions centre largely around using and promoting SAF and increasing the fuel efficiency of our aircraft.
We’re also focused on improving the efficiencies of our operations – our newly built facilities are designed with environmentally friendly features and, when we can, we are renovating existing facilities to improve operations. This can be seen in the UK with our new Farnborough Customer Support facility, which was built to BREEAM standards. Last February, we expanded and renovated our Appleton, Wisconsin, completions facility and took the opportunity to identify areas of the older facility we could upgrade for more sustainable operations.
Our focus on culture and learning is something that I am especially excited about. We have re-envisioned the Gulfstream Green Teams, employee-led organisations that provide a forum to connect around a shared interest and passion for the environment, create and engage in sustainability initiatives, and share best practices in support of Gulfstream’s sustainability efforts. I have long found that when we empower Gulfstream employees to continuously improve and create solutions, the results are truly innovative.
Has COVID fundamentally changed the business aviation industry? What changes have you seen? And can we expect a full Gulfstream presence at the NBAA show?
What I have seen since the onset of the pandemic is a confirmation of the well-known benefits of business aviation, and the confidence our customers have in the safety of travelling in Gulfstream aircraft. We have strong customer interest, increasing order activity and a growing pipeline. We are well positioned to have one of our best years in some time.
With continued precautions over the COVID-19 pandemic, our customers have shared that their preference is for smaller events right now, and we are hosting those accordingly. We anticipate returning to larger events in the future.