When it comes to unbridled luxury, some private jets are more fabulous than others.
Just as with cars, there are brands that carry the ultimate heft -- and in the jet industry, Gulfstream, now part of General Dynamics, has traditionally been regarded as the gold standard.
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Leaving aside VIP versions of commercial airliners, the ultra long-range Gulfstream G650 (together with its even longer-range version, the G650ER) has, since 2012, been the largest, fastest and most expensive of all purpose-built business jets.
It's been a peerless status symbol among the rich and famous.
But its position at the top is about to be contested.
After obtaining its Canadian and US certification in late 2018, Gulfstream's Canadian rival, Montreal-based Bombardier Aerospace, is preparing the launch of its Global 7500 jet (as well as its sister craft, the Global 8000), an aircraft designed to challenge G650's dominance head on.
All is set for a duel in the heights.
Capabilities and price
At first glance, the differences between both aircraft models are far from obvious. To be fair, a close race is to be expected when you're pushing the technology envelope in the way these two aircraft makers are.
The Global 7500/8000 and the G650 not only look similar to the untrained eye, but their capabilities also seem to be in the same ballpark.
Both are priced around the $70 million mark -- with the newer and larger Global 7500 being retailing slightly higher.
Although powered by different makes of engine -- GE for the Bombardier Global 7500/8000 and Rolls-Royce for the Gulfstream G650/650ER -- both aircraft are capable of carrying up to 19 passengers at speeds of around Mach 0.9, just short of the sound barrier.
The difference is in the details, such as the crafts' range.
Bombardier has extended the range of the Global 7500 and Global 8000 to 7,700 nautical miles and 7,900 nautical miles respectively.
That's enough to fly Sydney to Los Angeles nonstop, and outdoes the 7,000 nautical mile / 7,500-nautical mile ranges of Gulfstream's G650 / G650ER.
But the important of range is debatable.
"Adding range is more about creating headlines and flexing marketing muscle than [it is] a real consideration for customers," argues Adam Twidell, CEO of PrivateFly, a UK-based global executive aviation broker.
"The majority aren't flying to the very far extremes that these aircraft are capable of, so a couple of hundred nautical miles doesn't make much difference either way. And both jets offer the same speed, altitude and baggage capacity."
For Twidell, the real point of difference is inside the cabin.
The G650 has a few centimeters' edge when it comes to cabin width and height, but the cabin of the Global 7500 is over two meters longer, which -- in the confined spaces of an executive jet -- opens up some interesting possibilities.
"Its four-zone layout and extra space will appeal to customers looking for more privacy -- giving a dedicated and permanent bedroom area, rather than one converted from the divan seating (which is the standard in current flagship Global and Gulfstream models)," says Twidell.
"There's also a stand-up shower in its en suite -- which isn't available in the G650ER -- and a large conference suite with a six-seater table, which can also be used for a formal dining space. Bombardier has also added extra windows (now 28 in all) to compete with Gulfstream's famously light-filled cabin," he explains.
Bombardier's other ace up its sleeve is its state-of-the-art ergonomic seat, called The Nuage, the result of a seven-year-long research and engineering process.
Battle for the top
However, as appealing as these novelties might be, it's not yet clear whether they'll be enough to unseat the current incumbent. The Gulfstream brand may be formidable enough to retain the loyalty of many of its current customers.
And -- as come to be expected in the industry -- it's very possible that Gulfstream may soon respond to Bombardier's move by announcing the launch of a new program of its own.
"We'll be watching this space for the next announcement from Gulfstream," says Twidell, adding, "Ultimately, both are fantastic aircraft at the very pinnacle of purpose-built private jets".
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