* French firm says Falcon 10X will have widest cabin
* Dassault picks Rolls-Royce engines for first time
* Jet to compete with Bombardier, Gulfstream for elite
* Concern over future pandemics to support demand, CEO says
PARIS, May 6 (Reuters) - Dassault Aviation
launched a new long-range "flying penthouse" on Thursday in a
bid to challenge rivals serving the ultra-wealthy and heads of
state at the top end of the luxury jet market.
The Falcon 10X will be the French planemaker's most powerful
model, with a range of 7,500 nautical miles (13,890 km), and
compete with high-end models offered by Canada's Bombardier
and General Dynamics unit Gulfstream.
It will enter service in late 2025 and - in a first for a
commercial jet amid fierce debate over aviation emissions - come
equipped with Rolls-Royce Pearl engines designed to run
entirely on sustainable aviation fuel, Dassault said.
It is also the first time the British engine maker has been
picked to power a jet from Dassault, which had fallen out with
France's Safran over a previous engine project.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic and chronic volatility in
demand for smaller business jets, the market for the industry's
largest models has been boosted by the rising wealth of Asia.
"It's the one part of the market that held up very well all
the way through the pandemic," Agency Partners analyst Sash Tusa
Health has meanwhile risen to the top of concerns of the
industry's wealthiest clients, alongside security and privacy.
"All the executives of the companies, the VIPs, they want to
travel in a very safe way. They want to save time. And business
aviation is really the answer," Dassault Aviation Chief
Executive Eric Trappier said in a webcast.
"Vaccines should be the solution in order to smooth down the
effects of such a virus. But we have to know we will have to
live a long time with viruses, whether COVID-19 or another. So
it's also good to have a business jet in order to fly safely."
Dassault's gamble drew a riposte from Bombardier, whose
best-selling 19-seat Global 7500 goes for around the same price:
$75 million in today's dollars.
"We set the bar," Chief Executive Eric Martel told analysts,
adding he felt "very comfortable" after hearing about the 10X.
Previously code-named 'Future Falcon,' the 10X is the second
of two civil developments at Dassault alongside the
shorter-range Falcon 6X, which first flew in March. The maker of
French Rafale fighters is also involved in a new European combat
Dassault is banking on the 6X and 10X to improve its share
of the private-jet market against Gulfstream and Bombardier
after delivering 34 Falcons in 2020, the lowest in more than two
decades, U.S. aviation analyst Rolland Vincent said.
Bombardier delivered 114 business jets and Gulfstream 127.
In a market where rulers and billionaires frequently covet
the latest model, Dassault's last all-new luxury jet was the
Falcon 7X in 2007.
But analysts said the 10X's dinner party-sized cabin and
marathon range would set up a closer three-way race against
Bombardier's Global series and Gulfstream's upcoming G700.
"They've thrown down the gauntlet," Vincent said of
Dassault's largest-ever model.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher and Allison Lampert; Editing by Pravin
Char and Steve Orlofsky)