In Pursuit Of Diversity

I’m lucky enough to be invited to speak at many aviation industry events and, lately, often find myself discussing and debating light jet fleets.

On such occasions, diversity is one of my regular recommendations. Choosing to fly a charter operation of light jets alone would be a very brave decision. Light jets offer lower margins than larger business jets, and mixed fleets therefore bring comparative stability. A fleet of light jets alone will be particularly vulnerable to uncontrollable variables, such as interest rates, maintenance costs, exchange rates and fuel pricing – minor fluctuations in which could have a major effect on the low-margin strategy of the business.

Any business jet charter operator naturally wants to offer a diverse fleet to meet the range of passenger needs. Not only will the demands of your overall customer base be varied, but even individual customers will have dramatically changing requirements from one day to the next. On Friday, the customer needs a short-haul flight on a light jet to the South of France for a weekend break with his family. On Monday, he needs a long-haul service, with a large group of colleagues, to a vital business meeting in New York. As an operator, you cannot hope to offer a personal service, and maintain a long-term relationship with a customer, if you cannot meet that customer’s changing needs.

Reflecting on this fact, assessing our own fleet at London Executive Aviation (LEA), I was struck by another aspect of diversity. I began considering how truly international aircraft manufacture has become. Some of the global hotspots of business jet manufacture, locations that are established industry giants now, would once have seemed very surprising indeed. Who would have imagined, in the late 1960s, that Brazil would soon become a major force in global aircraft manufacture, solidly challenging the established players of North America and Europe?

And yet, a look through our fleet at LEA shows Embraer jets alongside aircraft from France (Dassault), Canada (Bombardier) and the US (Cessna). In turn, those companies operate manufacturing bases in locations as diverse as China, Mexico and the UK.

The origins, headquarters and histories of each of these companies are very different indeed, as just a few facts quickly reveal:

  • Dassault Aviation, which operates assembly and production plants in France and the US, produces the complete line of Falcon business jets. The first such aircraft – the Falcon 20 – was rolled out in 1963.
  • Cessna Aircraft Company was founded in 1927 and is still the world’s leading general aviation aircraft manufacturer by unit sales. Cessna introduced the Citation line of business jets to the world with a maiden flight in 1969.
  • Adding to the French-speaking field alongside Dassault, but on the other side of the Atlantic with headquarters in Montreal, Canada, Bombardier Aerospace also operates production facilities in the US, Mexico and Northern Ireland. Bombardier entered aerospace in 1986 with the purchase of Canadair, the manufacturer of Challenger widebody business jets.
  • And then came Embraer, joining the executive aviation field with the entry-into-service of the Legacy 600 in 2002. Rapidly expanding, Embraer’s business jet portfolio now includes the Phenom 100, Phenom 300, Legacy 450, Legacy 500, Lineage 1000 and, most recently, the Legacy 650.

Gathered together in a single fleet, these manufacturers clearly represent quite a celebration of diversity. You might say their backgrounds – whether cultural or historical – are worlds apart. No visitor, for example, would ever mistake Kansas for São José dos Campos. And whilst Dassault’s aeronautical history can be traced back to engineering work before the First World War, Bombardier entered the aviation market in a very different way – through acquisition in the mid-1980s. But each of these companies now plays a leading role in the global manufacture of business jets. They are united in so many ways, not least the pursuit of excellence and innovation. Each manufacturer deserves a place in a business aviation fleet as we enter 2011.

And in 2021? Or 2031? Which other nations will join the business jet elite? The HondaJet (based in the US but of Japanese parentage, of course) is scheduled for first delivery in the third quarter of 2012. As Russia prepares to introduce the Sukhoi Superjet 100 regional jet into commercial operation, is a Russian business jet far behind? (Past proposals have included the concept of the Tupolev Tu-444 supersonic aircraft and the Sukhoi-Gulfstream S-21 supersonic jet.) Similarly, stimulated by the impending commercial launch of the ARJ21, the first regional passenger jet from the People’s Republic of China, there is much talk of when and how China will build a business jet. (The Chinese military will be loosening access to the country’s low-altitude airspace in 2011, which is good news for general aviation.) Will the Indian economy surge, creating first a strong market for the operation of business jets, and then a market for their manufacture? The idea may seem unlikely to us now, but is it any less likely than the idea, not so very long ago, of Brazil breaking through the dominance of Europe and North America? Who’s next?

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