A guide to the major business jet manufacturers

Cessna factory

Cessna's production facility in Wichita, Kansas.

A quick look at the eight aircraft manufacturers at the forefront of the business jet industry.

A business jet being assembled inside Cessna’s facility in Wichita, Kansas.

Airbus Corporate Jets

Better known for building large aircraft used by commercial airlines, Airbus SAS started producing corporate and VIP versions of its aircraft in 1997, with the formation of Airbus Executive and Private Aviation. As the largest subsidiary of EADS, the French company is still principally a manufacturer of commercial aircraft. Aside from the aircraft it produces for military and freights purposes, it deals only with large airliners, but all of these can be converted into corporate or VIP versions – even the double-decker A380, which can hold up to 555 passengers.

Airbus has two main manufacturing sites – one at Toulouse and the other in Hamburg. All Airbus aircraft are built at Toulouse, but some (usually the A321s) are flown to Hamburg for finishing. Airbus are now beginning to build large military turboprop transports (A400M), but this will be a very small part of their overall aircraft manufacturing.

The most popular business jet built by Airbus are corporate ACJ318s, ACJ319s, ACJ320s and ACJ321s. These versions typically seat between 15 and 50 passengers – compared to airline versions which can carry over 200 passengers. Like Boeing Business Jets, Airbus Corporate Jets are often used by heads of state, governments and corporate, and because over 300 airlines operate Airbus aircraft, it is easy to find maintenance.

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Beechcraft Corporation (formerly Hawker Beechcraft)

Although stories of Hawker Beechcraft’s financial troubles have dominated the agenda in recent years, the company has been producing much-loved aircraft since it was founded by Walter H. and Olive Ann Beech in 1932. Trading under the name of Beech Aircraft Corporation, the company’s first move was to introduce the world to the Model 17 – otherwise known as the Beechcraft Staggerwing – which captured the imaginations of business travellers and air racers in equal measure.

In 1980, Beech became a subsidiary of aerospace and defence company Raytheon, before acquiring British Aerospace Corporate Jets and its popular line of mid-sized Hawker jets in 1993. The following year, a merger then saw Beech Aircraft join with the renamed Raytheon Corporate Jets to form Raytheon Aircraft.

Business continued to boom for over a decade, before Onex and GS Capital Partners took over Raytheon Aircraft in March 2007 and renamed the company as the Hawker Beechcraft Corporation. As Hawker struggled to pay the interest on the debt that was used to fund the purchase, the company announced it had entered into Chapter 11 protection in in May 2012.

Following the collapse of a high-profile takeover from Beijing-based Superior Aviation, the company eventually left bankruptcy on its own as the newly rebranded Beechcraft Corporation in February 2013. Although Beechcraft delivered its last business jet in the first quarter of 2013, it remains active in the market, with a network of 10 facilities in the US, UK and Mexico – along with more than 90 authorised service centres around the world – known as Global Customer Support, providing over 18,000 Hawker owners with spare parts and ongoing support.

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Boeing Business Jets

Although Boeing is most famous for its iconic airliners, the company launched the Boeing Business Jet series in the late-1990s, taking the commercial airframe of the 737 and turning into the BBJ by way of a number of modifications and luxury refurbishments. More recently, BBJs have included configurations based on the Boeing 777, Boeing 787 and the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, and can typically hold up to 50 passengers with enough space for a master bedroom, bathroom and living area.

The Boeing Company itself was founded in Seattle in 1916 by William Boeing. Boeing continued to expand for many decades, before merging with McDonnell Douglas in 1997 and moving the corporate headquarters to Chicago in 2001. All three version of BBJ remain popular types of aircraft amongst private jet owners and operators, and between 1996 and 2011, there were a total of 138 aircraft delivered to customers.

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As part of Bombardier Inc – which Quebec-born Joseph-Armand Bombardier founded in 1937, whilst inventing the snowmobile at the same time – Bombardier Aerospace is the world’s third-largest aircraft manufacturer. The company’s involvement with aircraft started with its acquisition of Canadair in 1986. After restoring Canadair to profitability, Bombardier performed the same feat with the Belfast-based Short Brothers aircraft manufacturing company, and then the Learjet Company of Wichita, Kansas.

Bombardier makes a wide range of jets to suit different purposes. The Learjet series is made up of light jets capable of carrying around eight or nine over short distances, whilst the popular Global 6000 – previously known as the Global Express XRS – can carry almost twice as many passengers and is able to make much longer journeys.

The Bombardier Global 7000 is expected to enter into the market in 2016 and will replace the Global 6000.

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Having built aircraft since 1927, Cessna’s smaller piston-powered aircraft are what have helped the company to build its name, but its extremely popular ranges of Citation and Mustang business jets have helped to define its personality. The company currently has 10 business jet models, ranging from the Mustang which can hold four passengers in a snug but comfortable setting, to the medium-sized Citation Ten, which can typically hold eight and is known for its breath-taking speed.

Cessna was founded by Clyde Cessna, the farmer who was the first man to build and fly an aircraft from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. Like Hawker Beechcraft and Learjet, the company was founded in Wichita, Kansas, and has kept its headquarters based in the city.

The company is a subsidiary of US industrial conglomerate Textron and Kansas native Scott Earnest has been the CEO of Cessna since June 2011 after taking over from the retired Jack Pelton.

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Dassault Falcon

Based in Paris, Dassault Aviation made its name producing fighter jets for the military. In 1954 the company produced a sketch of a sleek looking business jet carrying two jet engines under the wing. Known as The Méditerranée, the idea never progressed beyond paper it was written on, after it was decided that the aircraft would be too costly to mass produce.

It was not until 1963 that the prototype for the Mystère 20 finally emerged. Looking not too dissimilar to the Méditerranée design, the
aircraft was the company’s first business jet and one which paved the wave for the iconic Falcon series.

The Mystère 20 gained its certificate of airworthiness in 1965 and a total of 500 were produced, with four per month going to Pan Am. But after the American airline began to go off the idea of marketing an aircraft bearing a French name, it was eventually changed to the Falcon 20 the following year. More Falcons followed throughout the next decade and in 1976, the faster longer-ranged Falcon 50 made its first flight.

In recent years, Dassault has produced a number of medium-sized models as well as the larger Falcon 7X, which features three engines and has a range of almost 6,000 nautical miles.

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Founded in 1969, Brazilian-based Embraer entered the aerospace market making reliable turboprops. Producing a number of military aircraft throughout the 1970s, a regional airliner in 1985 and Piper aircraft from 1974, privatisation eventually saw Embraer sold to avoid bankruptcy in 1994. In the new millennium, the company turned heads when announced that it would start build its first business jet with the introduction of the Legacy program.

Available as a shuttle version with 16-37 seats and an executive version with 10-16 seats, the Legacy 600 flew for the first time in 2001. With the Legacy continuing to cement its reputation as an immensely popular mid-sized aircraft, in 2006 Embraer embarked on a tour across the US to showcase mock-ups of its new Phenom 100 business jet as well as the Phenom 300. The following year the Phenom 100 entered into service, just three months before the much larger Lineage 1000, which achieved FAA Certification in 2009.

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Although Gulfstream has developed a number of popular medium-sized jets, such as the G200 and G450, the Georgia-based company has built its reputation almost entirely from building large business jets. Having always specialised exclusively in corporate aircraft, Gulfstream Aerospace grew out of Grumman Aircraft Engineering Co., a manufacturer of military aircraft.

The DNA of the company can be traced back to the late 1950s when Grumman produced a business turbo-prop by the name of Gulfstream I. Relocating from New York State to the city of Savannah, Georgia, it was not until the 1970s that Grumman changed its name to Gulfstream American after merging with American Aviation Corp.

Gulfstream was bought by General Dynamics in the late 1990s and built the first ultra-long range business jet, the GV. The company has since hit its stride with large, long-range models such as the G500, the G550 and the G650.

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