Updated: Wed, 12/26/2012 - 01:15

Best of 2012: Gulfstream strong in 2012, poised for more

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Gulfstream Aerospace’s two newest products, the large-cabin, mid-range G280 and the ultra high-speed, ultra-long-range flagship G650, won certification from the Federal Aviation Administration during 2012, and Gulfstream continued to be a key piece of corporate parent General Dynamics’ profit picture.

In the third quarter alone, the Savannah-based business jet manufacturer’s revenues increased by 30 percent even as General Dynamics’ earnings slipped 8 percent.

Gulfstream’s total order backlog was $16 billion, with $15.8 billion of that funded.

“We continue to be encouraged by the size of our large-cabin backlog and the health of our order pipeline,” Johnson told analysts.

Sales were boosted by several multi-aircraft orders, with more expected in the fourth quarter, Johnson said.

Revenues for the third quarter topped $1.8 billion, due primarily to higher green G650 deliveries, he added.

A green aircraft is one that has completed the initial phase of manufacturing and has received a certificate of airworthiness from the Federal Aviation Administration. It’s called “green” because it’s covered with a green protective coating that is washed off before the aircraft gets its final coat of paint.

Green aircraft are delivered to one of five Gulfstream completion centers to be fitted with interiors and painted before final delivery to the customer.

In a departure from recent years, domestic orders represented some 60 percent of Gulfstream’s year-to-date book.

“Gulfstream’s sales staff reported their best order quarter of the year, driven by several multi-aircraft deals in North America,” Johnson said. “This metric represents a resurgence of North American demand and some softening of international demand, driven by political uncertainty in some regions and the overall negative impact of the European debt crisis on global economic sentiment.”

Even so, Johnson said, Gulfstream’s international customer interest remains healthy across the board.

With an estimated wait time of five years for a G650 order placed today, and 18 months for a G450 and G550, the sales staff continued to book healthy orders for the G650, as well as all other models in the third quarter, he said.

All three aircraft are manufactured in Savannah.

As part of Gulfstream’s civic commitment, the company and its employees raised $2.5 million for the 2012 United Way campaign in Savannah.

 

Agency critical of Gulfstream in fatal crash

Warning signs from previous test flights of the Gulfstream G650 business jet were not properly evaluated before the aircraft crashed during takeoff trials in New Mexico last year, safety experts said in October during a National Transportation Safety Board meeting in Washington, D.C.

The crash, which occurred April 2, 2011, in Roswell, N.M., during a takeoff run simulating late-stage engine failure, resulted in the deaths of all four Gulfstream employees on board: experimental test pilots Kent Crenshaw and Vivan Ragusa and technical specialists David McCollum and Reece Ollenburg.

“Two prior close calls should have prompted a yellow flag, but instead of slowing down to analyze what had happened, the program continued full speed ahead,” NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman said in her opening comments.

“In this investigation, we saw an aggressive flight test schedule and pressure to get the aircraft certified,” she said. “Assumptions and errors were made, but they were neither reviewed nor evaluated when review data was collected.”

In a submission to the agency dated May 21 of this year and placed on the NTSB public docket in June, Gulfstream said the company “accepts full responsibility for the accident.”

“Developmental flight test is inherently risky, but risks can and should be appropriately mitigated,” the Gulfstream report stated.

Among the factors Gulfstream listed as likely leading to the crash were an overestimation of the angle at which the aircraft could safely lift off and a takeoff speed schedule that was not properly developed or verified, resulting in an unachievable test point for the accident run.

“Gulfstream’s internal analysis, review and approval processes did not identify those two errors prior to field performance flight testing,” the report stated, adding that “two prior wing drop events in the G650 field performance program and other flight test anomalies arising from these improper speed schedules were not widely reviewed or properly understood.”

The company has taken several steps to improve safety since the accident, including the appointment of an aviation safety official who reports directly to the firm’s president and enhanced communication throughout the company, Gulfstream spokeswoman Heidi Fedak said.

Gulfstream released the following statement at the conclusion of Wednesday’s hearing:

“We appreciate the National Transportation Safety Board’s commitment to thoroughly examining this accident and determining its cause. Gulfstream has and will continue to support the families of the flight crew of Aircraft 6002. Their well-being remains a top consideration of everyone at Gulfstream.

“Safety is Gulfstream’s first priority. Since this accident, we have redoubled our efforts to strengthen the safety culture in flight test and throughout the rest of the company. We are committed to continuous safety improvement.”

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