Dassault to unveil business jet, sees lower deliveries

PARIS (Reuters) - Dassault Aviation took a step closer on Friday to refreshing its line-up of business jets, saying the first flight of its Falcon 6X was imminent and promising details of a new Future Falcon aircraft in “months or even weeks”.

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The two initiatives are crucial if Dassault is to maintain its grip on the corporate jet market after a development setback, but shares in the French planemaker stumbled as it predicted lower deliveries for the existing Falcon series in 2021.

Chief Executive Eric Trappier said the maiden flight of the Pratt & Whitney-powered Falcon 6X would be announced in days. It replaces the Falcon 5X, which was cancelled in 2017 when France’s Safran failed to develop a new engine on time.

The first example of the large-cabin jet will be delivered at the end of 2022, he told a news conference.

He said Dassault continues to back a business model split between Falcon business jets and France’s Rafale fighter.

Its 2020 results were overshadowed by lower demand for Falcon jets as well as a lower contribution from 35%-owned French arms and aerospace firm Thales, which suspended its dividend amid the pandemic last year.

Adjusted operating income more than halved to 261 million euros ($311.06 million) from 765 million as revenues fell 25% to 5.49 billion.

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Dassault delivered an already reported total of 34 Falcon jets in 2020, trailing rivals Bombardier and General Dynamics’ Gulfstream, with more than 100 each.

For 2021, Dassault predicted 25 Falcon deliveries, pushing its shares down more than 1%, analysts said. It also predicted 25 Rafale deliveries, up from 13 last year.

Business aviation has recovered faster from the pandemic than commercial airlines, helped by demand from first-time buyers, leisure travel, and wealthy individuals who fear flying in larger commercial jets due to COVID-19.

But deliveries declined 20.4% globally to 644 aircraft in 2020, with corporate planemakers expecting a full recovery could take years.

($1 = 0.8391 euros)

Reporting by Tim Hepher; editing by Jason Neely and Barbara Lewis