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DASSAULT GOES LONG

The Dassault Falcon 7X will compete in a market already dominated by Gulfstream and Bombardier.


October 1, 2007
By David Carr

Topics

241-7xDassault Aviation is a late arrival in the ultra high-end, long-range
market, having decided to take a pass on the category in the early
1990s. Even so, Europe’s only manufacturer of corporate jets does not
believe that it is so late that it won’t make an impression. And that
is precisely what the Saint Cloud, France-based aerospace company did
in February with the unveiling of the Falcon 7X, Dassault’s first new
design in 20 years, and the world’s only complete fly-by-wire business
jet.

With
a rollout as impressive as that of the 7X trijet’s distant and larger
cousin the A380 earlier this year (Airbus parent EADS holds 46% of
Dassault shares), familycontrolled Dassault has set the stage for an
assault on a market already dominated by Gulfstream and Bombardier.

If
the company is nervous, it refuses to show it. “We estimate the
potential market for the 7X at 300 to 400 jets sold over the lifetime
of the program, which is about 15 years,” Charles Edestenne, chairman
and CEO of Dassault, told reporters at the unveiling. The breakeven
point is pegged at 150 airplanes. It is off to a good start. Dassault
has orders for 51 aircraft from 16 countries including Canada. “We have
a very loyal customer base,” John Rosanvallon, president and CEO of
US-based Dassault Falcon Jet, told WINGS. “It is normal that the
majority of first orders would come from long-term Falcon customers.”
Indeed, some analysts sense that the 7X will be strong enough to nudge
Dassault ahead of Cessna as the world’s third largest manufacturer of
business jets measured by value of deliveries.

The aero
engineers in Saint Cloud have drawn heavily from Dassault’s experience
in the higher-profile military side of the business, especially the
Mirage and Rafale military jet programs. The 7X is the first airplane
ever designed and built in an entirely virtual environment, meaning
that most conflicts and issues that occur during the thick end of the
development curve are resolved before production begins, resulting in
an overall reduction in production time and costs. Dassault estimates
that this process saved at least seven months in the assembly of the
first production airplane.

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The 7X will also be the first
business jet to be flown with Fly by Wire (FBW) technology. Fly by Wire
was introduced by Airbus on commercial aircraft in the 1980s with the
A320, and had been standard technology on military programs before
then. FBW replaces mechanical linkage between the controls in the
cockpit and moving surfaces with electrical wires and circuits,
reducing workload on the flight deck and safeguarding the pilot from
operating outside of the flying envelope. Which leads to the question,
why it took so long to introduce FBW to a corporate platform.

Rosanvallon
points to Dassault’s 25-year military experience with FBW. “None of the
other OEMs have ever developed a fly-by-wire airplane, so it would be a
challenging first. They would also have been uncomfortable justifying
the investment. The last brand new model we introduced was the Falcon
2000 in the 1990s. That was probably a little early to push the
technology onto the business aviation side. The 7X was the first
opportunity.”

Approximately 30% of the US$940- million cost of
developing the Falcon 7X has been shared by 27 European and North
American suppliers including Montreal-based CAE and Pratt & Whitney
Canada (P&WC). “Our goal of producing an aircraft with 30% higher
performance than the Falcon 900EX while costing only slightly more
required us to hold an open competition for work packages that included
our own subdivisions. The result was a highly competitive bid process
which helped drive down costs without sacrificing quality,” said Guy
Piras, Dassault vice-president for external procurement.

Like
Dassault, P&WC is a newcomer to the ultra-high long-haul market.
“Dassault is really our first major entry into large corporate
aircraft. Until now we have focused on the small, medium to
mid-super-size corporate jets. We are now into the heavy iron. It is a
large and prestigious market,” said Mike Perodeau, vicepresident of
corporate aviation and military programs.

Designed specifically
for the 7X, the 6,100-pound thrust PW307A shares the same basic
architecture with the rest of the PW300 family, although it has evolved
largely from the PW306, versions of which are powering the Gulfstream
200 and Cessna Citation Sovereign. “There are some new features,”
pointed out Catrina Mackenzie, vice-president of the PW307.

These
include an advanced shockmanagement fan with increased flow capacity,
‘powdered metal’ in the turbines for much lower weight, and a TALON low
emissions combustor, developed and trademarked by P&WC’s US parent
for larger commercial airplane engines.

Dassault said that the
7X will be 40% more fuel-efficient than similar aircraft in its
category and should exceed the latest FAA/EPA and ICAO noise emission
standards.

P&WC delivered the first integrated powerplant
system production shipset, including PW307A engines, to ux a few weeks
ahead of rollout. Fly-by-wire does not have any impact whatsoever on
the engine control system. What was new for P&WC was the engine
configuration. “Obviously this is the first time we have done three
engines on one airplane, so it was our first centre integration,”
MacKenzie added.

The 7X is only the second time P&WC has
powered a Dassault corporate jet. The more powerful PW308 is used on
the Falcon 2000EX twin-jet. Interestingly, P&WC would have been
with Dassault business aircraft right from the beginning if history had
played out differently. Dassault’s first aircraft, the Mystère 20,
launched in 1960, was powered by two Pratt & Whitney JT12
turbofans, a Canadian engine that was transferred to the US parent in
the late 1950s in exchange for the PT6.

The Falcon 7X cabin
width and height is equal to the Falcon 900EX, but is six feet longer,
offering 20% more space. The 28 cabin windows are 10% larger than
windows in earlier Falcon widebodied aircraft, giving the 12 to 16
passengers 40% more cabin light. The aircraft is capable of speeds of
up to Mach 0.90 with a range of 5,700 nautical miles – approximately
1,000 nautical miles less than either the Gulfstream 550 or Bombardier
Global Express. Still, that gives you all of Europe from Toronto and
Tokyo from Vancouver. Dassault estimates that less than 10% of the
market requires the maximum range of a 550 or Global.

First
flight is expected in the second quarter of 2005. The engine program
has already accumulated more than 3,500 total full engine test hours to
date, including more than 450 hours on P&WC’s two Boeing 720 flying
test beds. The airplane should receive certification in late 2006, with
deliveries beginning shortly after.

Production of the
US$39-million 7X is already sold out until the first quarter of 2009 so
Dassault is considering accelerating the delivery schedule by
increasing production from 2.5 aircraft per month to three. Good news
for potential customers such as US fractional operator NetJets which
already operates a fleet of 60 Falcon aircraft and is looking at the
7X. “We would like to get the backlog to a more traditional lead time
as quickly as possible,” Rosanvallon said. “Right now this is the
airplane delivery time we are offering. The majority of our customers
would like to get the airplane sooner if they could.”