LAS VEGAS (AFP) - After years of secret development, Dassault Aviation on Monday unveiled its new Falcon business jet - the 5X - in Las Vegas, betting on rising demand for large-cabin luxury.
Known until now under the code name SMS, the twin-engine 5X extends the French aircraft manufacturer's presence in the large-cabin segment of business jets, the area showing the most sales growth potential.
Dassault's announcement, on the eve of the opening of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention in the Nevada gambling mecca, comes as the business-jet market increasingly pulls out of the tailspin from the 2008 global financial crisis.
While the downturn had various impacts on aircraft manufacturers, Dassault, and its US rival Gulfstream, weathered the storm relatively well thanks to their luxury jets.
"Higher-end planes noticeably resisted the headwinds better but we didn't build the 5X because there was a crisis," said Mr Eric Trappier, Dassault's chief executive, adding that over some seven to eight years of development the program "evolved more toward the high end than the low."
At a list price of roughly US$45 million (S$55.9 million), the 5X is expected to take its maiden flight in the first quarter of 2015 and enter service in mid-2017, said Dassault, which manufactures business and Rafale military jets.
The 5X cabin will have a 1.98m ceiling, the highest in the market, a significant comfort factor for long flights of 10 to 11 hours, the company highlighted.
The airplane can carry eight passengers and, with a range of 9,600km, can travel nonstop from Los Angeles to London or Paris to Beijing, for example.
Its next-generation "Silvercrest" engines, made by French firm Safran Snecma, will consume 15 per cent less fuel than similar engines, Dassault said.
The 5X's biggest competitors will be Gulfstream's G450 and Canadian firm Bombardier's GL5000. Neither company agreed to comment on Dassault's new jet.
The large-cabin segment is expected to account for more than 80 percent of all spending on new business jets in the near term, according to the Honeywell Business Aviation Outlook released Sunday.
"The trend toward larger cabin aircraft with ever-increasing range expectations and advanced avionics is seen more strongly than ever in this year's survey," said Rob Wilson, president of Honeywell Business and General Aviation.
Dassault's Trappier said the 5X represented the biggest investment yet in the Falcon programmes, with development costs at a billion euros (S$1.7 billion).
Mr Richard Aboulafia, vice-president of the Teal Group, a US aerospace industry consultancy, predicted an improving market for business jets in 2014.
"The US is starting to see a recovery, with particularly strong corporate profits and equities markets gains. This should translate into improved business jet demand next year," Mr Aboulafia said.
Dassault's launch of the 5X was a much-needed step, he said.
"All business jet manufacturers, especially at the top end, need to rejuvenate their product lines frequently to retain customer interest." But there were additional reasons why Dassault needs the new product.
"Reinforcing its business jet unit is a particularly important move for Dassault, which is struggling with a very weak home market and trouble closing its first Rafale export contract." The NBAA convention runs from Tuesday through Thursday. During pre-show press events Monday, only Bombardier announced an order, from Flexjet for 30 Learjet 85, with a list price of US$615 million.