Gulfstream Leadership Looks Forward to 2021

The business-aviation OEM reports reasonable success for 2020.

“There are a lot of new buyers in the marketplace,” said Mark Burns, president of Gulfstream Aerospace. That observation explains the positive outlook maintained by the leadership team at the business aviation OEM—in spite of a soft second quarter and the ongoing prospects of unease in the economy into 2021. The pandemic has taken—in upsets to the company’s supply chain as well as its own operations as it has navigated the year—but it has also given back in other ways. Burns noted that the dramatic change in the playing field during 2020 has acted as “an accelerant for new businesses” with their accompanying need to travel, and to meet with customers and suppliers. And enough of these new entrants to the marketplace have turned to business aviation as a solution to start making up for other losses in the corporate aviation world.

Burns joined Scott Neal, senior vice president of worldwide sales, and Colin Miller, senior vice president of innovation, engineering, and flight, in a conference call with aviation media on November 19. During the nearly hour-long call, the trio fielded questions about the G700 program, as well as milestones made by the newly released G500 and G600, and the G280, G550, and G650 that form the heart of the company’s super-midsize to long-range fleet.

“I remain optimistic that we went into this very strong, and we are coming through this strong, and we will clear it and come out the other side strong as well,” said Burns. Gulfstream came into 2020 with “great momentum” with a “flurry of activity on the G700” as the company built upon the program’s announcement in October 2019. From all accounts, Gulfstream had a great fourth quarter of 2019 from a sales perspective. The company flew the G700 for the first time on February 14—and it now has five test articles flying. The early part of the year also saw the 600th G550 and the 400th G650 sold, with new service facilities opening up in Van Nuys (KVNY), California, and a parts distribution center in Amsterdam, setting up a good foundation for the tumultuous times the rest of the year would bring.

The pandemic drove changes within the company’s operations, with roughly 5,000 employees working remotely through the first five months of the crisis. Many have been reintegrated into the on-site workflow—though like other corporations Gulfstream has recognized where gains can be made in keeping folks in remote offices. Burns noted that the exercises required to meet protocols necessary to continue manufacturing sent ripples throughout the organization. “It can be close quarters [working on aircraft], but we’ve learned how to distance.”

The company managed to deliver and demonstrate aircraft around the world throughout the pandemic—critical to maintaining momentum on new programs such as the G700. Speaking of which, the program has remained resolutely on track, with Miller noting the development team’s ability to keep impacts from COVID-19 to a minimum. “We’ve been able to keep pace,” he said. Burns agreed: “We’ll be inducting the first airplane into completion very soon.”

Gulfstream has also kept a focus on sustainability in its investments and development efforts. “Every new design starts with sustainability in mind,” said Burns, with reductions in emissions, increases in fuel efficiency, and an eye towards using sustainable aviation fuel in a wide variety of operations. The company has begun to sell SAF at its facility in Van Nuys, and the fuel is used in Gulfstream’s own corporate fleet as well as in flight-test aircraft.

Looking ahead, Neal does not see significant change in pricing on the horizon, calling prices “stable.” “Companies want to do business with strong companies,” said Neal, and Gulfstream’s investments and corporate discipline have paid off in this regard. While activity certainly dropped off in April, May, and June, according to Neal, they’ve since registered an uptick in flying that they project will continue into 2021—with 87 deliveries though the third quarter. And those new buyers in the market aren’t choosing the entry-level end of Gulfstream’s product line, either. “Some first-time buyers are getting into the G650 as their first aircraft,” said Neal.

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