Dassault to unveil business jet, sees lower deliveries
PARIS (Reuters) - Dassault Aviation took a step closer to refreshing its business jets on Friday, saying the first flight of its Falcon 6X is imminent and promising details of a new Future Falcon aircraft in "months or even weeks".
The two initiatives are vital if Dassault is to remain in control of the business jet market after a setback in development. However, the French aircraft maker's shares stumbled as it forecast lower deliveries for its existing Falcon series in 2021.
CEO Eric Trappier said the maiden flight of the Pratt & Whitney-powered Falcon 6X would be announced in a few days. It replaces the Falcon 5X, which was canceled in 2017 when French Safran didn't develop a new engine in time.
The first example of the large cabin jet will be delivered at the end of 2022, he announced at a press conference.
He said Dassault continues to support a business model split between Falcon Business Jets and the French Rafale fighter.
2020 results were overshadowed by lower demand for Falcon jets as well as a smaller contribution from 35% French arms and aviation company Thales, which suspended its dividend in the wake of last year's pandemic.
Adjusted operating income more than halved from 765 million to 261 million euros (311.06 million US dollars) as sales fell 25% to 5.49 billion euros.
Dassault already delivered 34 Falcon jets in 2020, followed by General Dynamics' rivals Bombardier and Gulfstream with more than 100 each.
Dassault forecast 25 Falcon shipments in 2021 and pushed its shares down more than 1%, analysts said. 25 Rafale deliveries were also forecast, up from 13 last year.
Business aviation has recovered from the pandemic faster than commercial airlines. This was aided by demand from first-time buyers, vacationers, and wealthy individuals who fear flying in larger airliners due to COVID-19.
However, global deliveries fell by 20.4% to 644 aircraft in 2020. Aircraft manufacturers expect a full recovery could take years.
($ 1 = 0.8391 euros)
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Jason Neely and Barbara Lewis)
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