Gulfstream is making a splash at Farnborough, bringing the new G800 to the show on its first international flight, a couple of weeks after its first flight on June 28th. The G800 is Gulfstream’s longest-range aircraft, with an 8,000 nm range, and is expected to join the G700 in Gulfstream’s line-up in late 2023.
The Gulfstream G800 was tested above its maximum cruise of M0.925 and altitude of 51,000 in a long-range test flight before making the trans-Atlantic trip. “To take the G800 on this trans-Atlantic trip so close to first flight is extraordinary,” said Gulfstream President Mark Burns. “Thanks to our strategic planning and the investments Gulfstream has made in our new aircraft programs, we are able to fly the G800 with remarkable efficiency and bring the aircraft directly to customers early in the flight test program, as we have in Farnborough. The Gulfstream Farnborough Service Center is one of our newest and most modern, and it’s fitting that the G800 has made its international debut here.”
With no Farnborough Air Show in 2020 due to the pandemic, the 2022 event provides an opportunity for Gulfstream to showcase its 225,000 sq. ft. facility that can accommodate up to 13 of Gulfstream’s largest jets, including the G650ER, G700, and G800. The facility offers maintenance, overhaul, interior refurbishments, and aftermarket modifications for Gulfstream customers.
The forthcoming G400, existing G500 and G600, and forthcoming G700 and G800 all share in Gulfstream’s Symmetry Flight Deck featuring active control sidesticks and the most extensive use of touch-screen technology in the industry. But the fly-by-wire technology in the G500 and G600 models, upon which the G400, G700, and G800 systems will be based, has a flaw resulting in an FAA Airworthiness Directive restricting operations in conditions with even moderate winds.
Currently, the G500 and G600 are restricted from operating when forecast winds at landing are more than 15 knots or about 17.3 miles per hour. In addition, it prohibits landing if wind gusts are greater than 5 knots, and requires pilots to add 10 knots to their landing reference speed, increasing landing distance.
The Airworthiness Directive followed two hard landings, one on 6 February 2020 and one on 4 April 2022 that involved erroneous activation of the jet’s angle of attack limitation in the fly-by-wire system rules. That system is designed to prevent stalls, but an inadvertent activation that changes to a nose-down angle of attack is dangerous on landing, particularly in windy conditions.
Combine this with increased scrutiny of software by the FAA in the aftermath of the Boeing 737 MAX crashes, with new requirements including a line-by-line review of the software code, and delays of 3-6 months are likely to occur for the G700, G800, and G400 models that are currently under development. We believe that this will require an additional six months for the development time frame and entry into service for both the Gulfstream G700 and Gulfstream G800.
In the meantime, the G500 and G600 remain restricted and unable to perform more than half of their planned operations due to wind forecasts that prohibit a take-off. These rules are playing havoc with the more than 100 aircraft currently in service, and have a number of owners quite upset.
Gulfstream has been perhaps the most reliable company in aviation in having few major issues and getting new products designed and delivered on time. This glitch represents a major deviation from normal, and the company is working diligently to solve the problem. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help customers that cannot operate the aircraft because of the severe restrictions and may result in potential customers rethinking the Gulfstream G800, which utilizes similar fly-by-wire technology.
The negative experience with the G500 and G600 ownership group comes at a time when competition is increasing at the high end of the market. Bombardier’s Global 5500 and 6500 models were developed in a similar time frame and compete directly with the G500 and G600. Dassault’s new Falcon 6X and Falcon 10X will provide new competition in the large and ultra-long-range segments with the widest cabins in their class, and will soon enter service. From a competitive standpoint, this couldn’t come at a worse time for Gulfstream.
In the past, Gulfstream has been exceptionally responsive to its customers, who are among the wealthiest and most influential individuals in the world. A quick resolution of the current crisis with the G500 and G600 will be important to Gulfstream’s reputation and customer retention for the Gulfstream G800 flagship. Stay tuned.