Hawker 4000: Dreamliner of Business Jets

The plane is distinguished by its composite fuselage, powerful engines and advanced avionics.
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A blockbuster product, the Hawker 4000 is the Dreamliner of the business jet industry.

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Boeing

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, Wichita, Kan.-based

Hawker Beechcraft

, the second-largest business jet maker, set out to make a composite aircraft.

Distinguished by its composite fuselage, powerful engines and advanced avionics, the 4000 was introduced in June. The manufacturer billed the $20 million aircraft, which seats 10 to 12 passengers, as "the most advanced and luxurious super-midsize business jet in the world."

Hawker Beechcraft had worked toward building a composite aircraft since the 1980s, when it designed the Beechcraft Starship.

"This was a company that in the 1980s rolled the dice on composite," says Charles Mayer, vice president of marketing. "It was 70% stronger than aluminum, it was lighter, it was futuristic, a whole new way to make airplanes -- and it was an abysmal failure."

The diversion of management focus, the high costs, and the delays in federal certification enable

Cessna

, which decided to stick with aluminum, to pass Beechcraft as the leading business jet maker -- a spot it has retained. Cessna is owned by

Textron

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.

Today, sales of the 4000 are holding up, despite the economy. "You can say, 'Wow, it would have been great to deliver this into a booming market,' but we did it in enough time to get a big backlog," says Mayer. "It's a compelling enough (product) go keep consumers hooked. If there is an aircraft we don't have trouble moving, it's the 4000."

A second bright spot for Hawker Beechcraft, jointly owned by

Goldman Sachs

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and Canadian investment firm Onyx, is its defense business. In a recent report, Standard & Poor's noted that the company derives about 10% of its revenues from production of a primary trainer aircraft for the U.S. Air Force and Navy under a sole-source, long-term contract. Another 10% to 15% is derived from parts, maintenance and service sales. Revenues are about $3 billion. As of Dec. 31, the company had a backlog of $7.6 billion, more than two years of production.