The definition of a successful private jet can be defined in many ways such as units sold, total revenue, profit or the intangible gains such as technological advancement. Of course; no manufacturer wants to design, certify, build and market a new aircraft type only to sell 50 units. The costs of bringing a new aircraft to market is substantial and in most cases If a program sells less than a few hundred units, it typically is not a financial success.
Based on units delivered according the General Aviation Manufacturer’s Association (GAMA), two private jets stick out as the most successful over the 20-year period between 1996-2015.
The first private jet was designed from a combination of several “off the shelf” components combined with a new tail to make a new category considered “super light-jet” or small mid-sized jet. Cessna created the Excel, which first started deliveries in 1998, from the wing from the Citation Ultra and fuselage from the Citation X / Citation VII. The new Excel had a straight wing therefore wasn’t the fastest aircraft however; the runway performance, range and cabin combined to make this aircraft a market success.
According to GAMA records, the Excel (Includes derivatives /XLS/XLS+) combined to sell 899 units between 1998 and 2015 which is a rate of 49.9 units per year. The market acceptance of this new aircraft was nothing short of spectacular, the owners love their Excels. The fractional operators loved it too, selling many units to both Net Jets and Cessna’s subsidiary Citation Air.
The next private jet had been a direct derivative of the Hawker 800A and was a true mid-sized cabin aircraft with excellent range, speed, and cabin volume. The Hawker 800XP was developed with new Honeywell engines that increased the range to about 2,400 nm. The new 800XP was an immediate success with many corporate and fractional sales to both Net Jets and Raytheon’s own fractional subsidiary: Travel Air.
According to GAMA historical records, the Hawker 800XP (Includes derivatives 750/850XP/900XP) combined to sell 830 units between 1996 and 2015. After the Hawker/Beechcraft bankruptcy, the Hawker 800XP was no longer produced after 2012, therefore; the rate of deliveries between 1996-2012 was 48.8 units per year. The market acceptance of this new version of a legacy aircraft was tremendous.
The success of both the private jets shows the industry that there can be great value in incremental improvements over proven technology. This is not to say that an all new “clean sheet” designs should not be developed, no, not at all. Bombardier’s Challenger 300/350 and Embraer’s Phenom 300 have shown great promise and may overtake the sales numbers for both the Hawker and Excel as production continues. In fact, Cessna’s Latitude and Embraer’s 450/500’s have also shown great promise.
Historically, there have been lessons learned by manufacturers who have arguably reached too far with clean sheet designs that relied upon carbon fiber composites or unproven production techniques that didn’t achieve their production goals despite being very good aircraft. Perhaps the recent technological leaps that have been made will prove to last as long as the Hawker and Excel lines and outpace their great production runs.