UPDATED 16 APRIL WITH DEFENCE STATEMENT
Defence has confirmed that the RAAF has leased three Dassault Falcon 7X business jets to replace the Bombardier Challenger CL-604 jets operated by 34SQN in Canberra as VIP special purpose aircraft (SPA).
The 7X was selected by the RAAF back in 2017 after a tender was released in 2015. The first of the three aircraft ferried from Dassault’s Merignac facility near Bordeaux to a cabin interior finishing centre in Little Rock, Arkansas on March 29 painted in familiar RAAF VIP fleet colours and using the ‘ASY’ callsign commonly used by RAAF air mobility group (AMG) aircraft.
“The Government decided to extend the Boeing Business Jets lease and replace the Challenger aircraft,” A Defence spokesman confirmed to ADBR. “Defence will lease three new Dassault Falcon 7X aircraft to replace the three existing Bombardier CL604 Challengers.”
The 7X is a major capability leap from the smaller CL-604. It is powered by three P&W PW307A engines, has a maximum operating speed of M .90 and a range of up to 11,000km, giving it a one-stop range capability to almost any destination on earth. But just as importantly, the 7X has good short field performance and a low pavement rating, allowing it to operate into remote and regional airfields.
The 12-16 seat cabin is 11.9m long and offers stand-up headroom of 1.88m (6’2”), although it is not known what the RAAF cabin configuration will be. When cruising at 45,000 feet, the 7X has a relative cabin pressure of only 4,000 feet.
“The Falcon will have reduced operating costs, larger passenger load, modern communication capability and increased range and endurance,” the Defence spokesman said. “The Challengers are being replaced at a natural point in their aging and maintenance cycle.”
Despite the RAAF ordering four Gulfstream G550 special mission aircraft to be modified into MC-55A Peregrine electronic support aircraft, the commonality benefits of operating G550 VIP aircraft were outweighed by the 7X’s better field performance and smaller ramp and hangar footprint
The 7Xs are believed to be leased from an entity of GE Capital under an extension of the current arrangement with the BBJs and the CL-604s. It is believed the BBJs will be retained and upgraded, and these and the 7Xs will soon be complemented by a KC-30A equipped with a VIP cabin for long haul VIP missions but which will retain its air-to-air refuelling capabilities.
Defence confirmed it “anticipates delivery of a seventh KC-30A Multi-role Tanker Transport in the Government Transport Carrier configuration in the second half of 2019.”