Dassault recently introduced the Falcon 6X, replacing the ill-fated 5X program that failed because Safran’s Snecma engine unit was unable to deliver the Silvercrest engine on time for that program. Dassault recognized that something needed to be done, and a French aerospace company that had chosen a French engine supplier replaced it with Pratt & Whitney Canada for its new program, clearly indicating that customers come before economic nationalism for Dassault. There is a limit to nationalist patience. At the 2016 NBAA, a Dassault official told us they were sticking with the Silvercrest engine because the airframe and engine were designed together.
The 6X, powered by PW800 engines, provides better performance and a slightly longer cabin than the predecessor 5X. The key question now is whether Dassault can convince customers who have been waiting a long time for the 5X to wait just a little longer for the 6X. Clearly, there will need to be concessions offered to those customers, and a secondary question is how much Dassault will be able to recover from Safran as a result of their failure to meet commitments.
The twin-engine 6X joins an interesting lineup that includes the 7X and 8X tri-jets, which are currently the top end of the Falcon Jet line. The largest model, the 8X, is slightly smaller than the competing G650 and Global 7000 aircraft. The tri-engine Falcon’s have always had better runway performance than its twin-engine competitors, as a tri-jet retains a higher percentage of power than a twin in engine-out situations. As a result, customers that seek performance at smaller airports often prefer the Falcon models over competitors.
Falcon jets have been characterized as “pilot’s airplanes” with high-performance characteristics combined with luxury for passengers in the back. To some degree, Falcon is the Ferrari while Gulfstream and Bombardier’s Globals are the Rolls Royce or Bentley from a pilot’s perspective. This is influenced by Dassault’s experience in military aircraft, including the legendary Mirage and Rafale.
As we look to the future, the next challenge for business aviation is supersonic flight. Aerion has joined with Airbus to produce a supersonic business jet, and several other start-ups are contemplating market entry. Given the heritage, there is arguably no player in the industry better positioned to introduce a supersonic business jet than Dassault.
Dassault has a strong family of business jets, a global support network, and a superb reputation. But Dassault also uniquely has experience and expertise in building supersonic military aircraft. Dassault knows how to design, built, and support supersonic flight at speeds beyond what would be needed for a business jet. They understand the requirements necessary for cost-effective supersonic flight, including the need for new engine technology, to make this happen. And knowing that the right technology is not yet available today, Dassault has not announced a supersonic aircraft. But when the time is right, they will be well positioned to become a leader in that emerging market segment.
Is there room for a Falcon 9X, larger than the 8X, to compete directly with the Global 7000, which has a cabin that is nearly 20% longer than the 8X? If there is no supersonic technology in the near future, Dassault might well consider a new “flagship” model to provide an additional “top end” alternative to the G650 and Global 7000.
The Bottom Line:
In the short-term, Dassault is dealing with the aftermath of the 5X, and transitioning customers to the new 6X. But the future for Dassault continues to look bright. The 6X will be an excellent airplane, with a proven engine. The 7X and 8X are already successful programs. The open question is what comes next, and Dassault is well positioned for both subsonic and supersonic programs in the future.