Interview with MARK BURNS – President of Gulfstream Aerospace
By Frédéric Vergnères
Copyright : Gulfstream Aerospace
Given the current global economy and the figures published in the first half of the year by General Aviation
Manufacturers Association (GAMA), the business aviation market is undergoing turbulent times. Has business aviation had its golden age and is it undergoing profound change? I would say that the industry is undergoing profound change. Manufacturers must innovate more as customer expectations of their aircraft continue to grow and evolve. Customers want to go farther faster, which is why the Gulfstream G650 and G650ER have done so well in the marketplace. Clients are also spending more time in their aircraft as a result of these longer ranges, which requires manufacturers to innovate in terms of interior design, in-flight connectivity, in-flight entertainment and the overall cabin environment. How do you see the future of this industry and, in the long term, will it be radically different from what we know today, both in terms of markets and how it operates? With both innovation and opportunity come potential, so I see tremendous growth for business aviation. There’s plenty of room for business aviation growth in regions outside North America, where business and private aviation do not have the established reputation and fleets that we see in North America. So, I can definitely see another golden era of business aviation, and I believe that Gulfstream will be a big part of it.
What is the state of the pre-owned aircraft market and what impact does it actually have on the sales of your aircraft?
We’re seeing some impact of the pre-owned market on the G450 and G550 programs, as we expected once we announced the Gulfstream G500 and G600. Ultimately, however, we’re comfortable with where the pre-owned aircraft market is. Pre-owned aircraft have given our service business a boost.
Has the recent announcement of a possible explosion of debt in China caused you to revise your market forecasts in this country, and in Asia in general?
The Asia-Pacific region is an important one for us. It’s our largest international market with 11 percent of the worldwide fleet of Gulfstream aircraft based there. As a result, we have made considerable investments in the region. We have more than 75 people based in Greater China; offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore; our Gulfstream Beijing service center, which was the first center opened by a business-jet manufacturer in the region; a Product Support office in Hong Kong with our Asia Customer Contact Center; seven field service representatives; and a considerable parts inventory. We’re committed to the success of that market. Any market is going to have ups and downs; the key is to commit for the long-term, and we have done that in China.
Since 2015, the ultra long-range aircraft segment has been hit by market volatility. What was the impact on your aircraft family and despite it all do you think that this aircraft segment will continue to dominate the market?
Our ultra-long-range aircraft (the G550, G650 and G650ER) continue to do well. We’ve delivered nearly 200 G650 and G650ER aircraft combined, and the backlog extends into 2018. I believe that segment will continue to prosper, especially as we introduce new aircraft with new capabilities into that market. The Gulfstream G600, for example, can fly 6,200 nautical miles at Mach 0.85 or 4,800 nautical miles at Mach 0.90. The aircraft has a revolutionary new flight deck that features active control sidesticks, touch screen controls and an enhanced vision system that offers even better resolution than previous systems. Our confidence in the ultra-long-range market is reflected continue introducing aircraft into that market, such as the G650ER and the G600. And the popularity of those aircraft speaks to the market’s interest in them.
The month of December will mark the fourth anniversary of the entry into service of the G650. How many aircraft are currently in service and what has been the feedback from users?
We have delivered more than 200 combined G650 and G650ER aircraft, and the feedback from those operators has been extraordinary. They tell us that the G650 and G650ER have exceeded their expectations. One operator flew the aircraft the 8,000 nautical miles from Singapore to Las Vegas at an average speed of Mach 0.85, accomplishing the flight in just 14 hours and 32 minutes. That speed and range is important to our operators. Most of them are flying the aircraft at Mach 0.90, which saves them more than 50 hours in flying time (compared to flying at Mach 0.80). The benefits of flying faster (and therefore less) include longer duration between scheduled maintenance visits; higher potential value due to fewer hours flown; lower annual expense for parts programs; lower payments into engine, auxiliary power unit and avionics service plans; and shorter crew duty days for safer operations. The program is an unparalleled success.
In the medium term, are you planning a higher-category aircraft than the G650 in order to continue to dominate this segment?
Right now, we’re focused on the flight-test program for the Gulfstream G500 and the development program for its sister ship, the Gulfstream G600. These aircraft are slated to enter service in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Beyond that, Gulfstream continuously explores ways to enhance the products and services we deliver to our customers. We have more than 1,500 engineers working at our research and development center campus, and they have great things in store. Stay tuned.
Can you give us an update on the G500 and G600 programs?
The G500 and G600 programs are going extremely well. The Gulfstream G500 is in flight test with a total of five aircraft flying, including an aircraft with a fully outfitted interior that will allow us to test cabin performance and reliability in real-word environments. The aircraft have completed more than 1,600 hours of flight and reached a maximum speed of Mach 0.995 and altitude of 53,000 feet. We’ve completed ultimate load testing of the structural test article and have installed the fatigue test article in the test hangar, so we can begin fatigue testing later this year. In terms of the G600 program, the first G600 test aircraft has been delivered to the Flight Test Center in Savannah for instrumentation in anticipation of its first flight in 2017. Four additional test aircraft, including one that will be outfitted with a full interior, are in various stages of production. So, both programs continue to do well. And we’re looking forward to delivering these aircraft to our customers.
What is the outlook for the Gulfstream G500 and G600 not only in terms of competition but also a sluggish market?
Sales of the G500 and G600 are going well.
Are the future buyers of the new models primarily former owners of G450 and G550?
We’ve seen a diverse response to the G500 and G600. The aircraft are attracting customers who already have experience with Gulfstream and competitor large-cabin aircraft. Customers have been impressed by the new technology in the flight deck, the comfort of the cabins and the speed and efficiency of the aircraft.
As regards these two models, when do you plan to stop producing them?
As we have stated, we are in a transition period as we bring the all-new G500 and G600 into production and reduce rates for the G450 and G550. We monitor market demand for all of our products closely, and we continue to see interest across our product line. We will make a decision on an end of production for the G450 and G550 based on customer demand.
Faced with a market segment hit by the economic downturn, what is the future of the G280 within your aircraft family?
Gulfstream is committed to the G280. We have seen continued strong demand for that aircraft, with more than 95 already in service. It was our most active aircraft in the third quarter of 2016.
Where are you with the program started several years ago on the suppression of the supersonic boom?
Gulfstream has a small team committed to sonic-boom mitigation research. We continue to work to remove the ban on flying supersonically over land.
Could these tests result in the development of a supersonic jet?
Only time will tell