Aircraft: Bridging a Gulf
Kevin Russell, executive vice president of NetJets, the leading fractional ownership provider, has always admired Gulfstream airplanes. "The most highly desirable jet to own in the world is a Gulfstream," Russell says. In recent years, however, Gulfstream’s strategy was to build bigger and faster intercontinental jets such as the 19-passenger G-V, leaving behind clients who did not require high-speed, long-range capabilities.
Continental business travelers, faced with a lack of small and midsize Gulfstream options, sought other manufacturers’ jets for their domestic flights. "Traditionally, every time Gulfstream developed a new aircraft, it was bigger, flew faster, and went farther," says Robert Baugniet, a Gulfstream spokesman, "and we would leave markets in which we had been successful."
Gulfstream, with prodding from its owners, has changed its strategy. Long known for its Roman numeral nomenclature, Gulfstream is giving its jets new names (models include the G100, G150, G200, G300, G400, G500, and G550) and introducing midsize jets into its fleet while tweaking its signature ultralong-range models. Last year, Gulfstream partnered with Israel Aircraft Industries, a company that specializes in midrange jets, and developed the G150, a $13.5 million six-passenger jet with a 3,100-mile range that can fly from New York to Los Angeles in 5 hours and 50 minutes. Previously, Gulfstream did not offer a comparable midsize jet in its fleet.
The revamping is already yielding dividends. Last September, NetJets placed a $1.5 billion order with Gulfstream for 50 G150s and options to purchase 50 more. "This will enable Gulfstream to reach a much broader market for their products than just the people who buy a $32 million G-IV," Russell says.
While Gulfstream is targeting the midsize-jet customer—after all, the majority of business flights are continental rather than ultralong-range—the company will continue to offer its large-cabin aircraft. The G-V, currently the company’s flagship jet, will be phased out and replaced by two planes: the G500 and the G550, each of which will boast 20 percent more cabin space and 30 percent more luggage room than its predecessor. The top-of-the-line G550, which can accommodate 19 passengers, will cruise above commercial traffic at 51,000 feet and have a range of more than 7,750 miles.
The G550 ($45.75 million) will also feature the Enhanced Vision System (EVS), a forward- aimed infrared mechanism—the first of its kind approved by the FAA. The system projects an image of the plane’s flight path on a Honeywell-designed display in the cockpit, enabling the pilot to maneuver easily in rain, fog, and darkness. The G500 ($38.6 million) is essentially the same aircraft as the G550, but it will have a shorter range, heavier payload, and fewer standard features. The G400 ($32.5 million), which is derived from the current GIV-SP, will share the same airframe as the G300 ($25.5 million), but it will have a longer range and more options than its less- expensive sibling.
"Gulfstream had 80 percent of the transcontinental market with the G-II, so when they launched the G-III, they left behind a huge market," Russell explains. "This certainly shows that their thinking has evolved. They will have a family of products that will stand up to anyone’s—an array of products that is just unbeatable."