Learjet, a Work in Progress

July 22, 2012 by admin

By William Garvey
Source: Business & Commercial Aviation

Much attention and commentary regarding Bombardier’s aviation interests have focused on the Canadian company’s most ambitious projects, namely its CSeries jetliner and Global 7000 and 8000 ultra-long-range business jets. For good reasons.

The 100- to 149-seat CSeries is the largest aircraft ever produced by Bombardier and represents a gamble that’s consuming $3.5 billion of development dollars. It is also the first Bombardier aircraft to threaten the near total market control of Boeing and Airbus.

Thus it was no surprise when Pierre Beaudoin, president and CEO of Bombardier Inc., focused almost entirely on the CSeries during a Wings Club luncheon speech in New York early this year. “The comfortable days of duopolies in commercial and regional aircraft are over,” he said.

“Some may believe that re-engined aircraft with a 20-year-old design will be good enough,” he continued, taking a sideswipe at the heavy selling A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX. “We believe that ‘good enough’ is not what operators expect or need.”

Two weeks after Beaudoin’s speech, NetJets announced a firm order for 50 Global 5000, 6000, 7000 and 8000 business jets, with options for another 70. Should all options be exercised, the total retail price would exceed $6.7 billion. It touted the sale as “the largest aircraft purchase agreement in the history of private aviation.”

The first of the ultra-Globals, the 7000, is to enter service in 2016. The development of those top-of-the-line models, along with the Global Vision Flight Deck and the CSeries, consume a good chunk of the $1 billion to $1.5 billion Bombardier Aerospace President and CEO Guy Hachey says his company has been investing annually in R&D.

With two such high-profile and high-cost programs under way involving high-ticket airplanes, an OEM could be expected to ease up elsewhere, particularly if involved in the light jet business, a market segment that crashed four years ago and remains depressingly down. However, Bombardier has chosen quite another course and actually appears to be investing more in Learjet than at any time since it acquired the line from its bankrupt owner in 1990.

The company is now at work on three Learjet models. There’s the Model 85, launched in 2007 and at 66 ft. long with a double-club cabin, the largest aircraft to bear the Lear marque. And, announced at the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) in May, the Model 70 and 75. While the latter two are upgrades of the current 40XR and 45XR, the 85 is an all-new design with all-composite construction, a first for Bombardier.

Compared to the models they will succeed, the six-passenger Model 70 and eight-passenger Model 75 will feature more thrust, improved takeoff performance, faster climb-to-cruise, better fuel efficiency and lower operating costs. They will be powered by 3,850-lb.-thrust Honeywell TFE731-40BR turbofans, have Bombardier’s signature Vision cockpit layout with three-screen Garmin G5000 avionics and sport canted winglets. The two are priced at $11.1 million and $13.5 million, respectively.
With its stand-up, 6 ft., 1 in.-wide cabin, the Model 85 is not only the largest Lear ever, its Mach 0.82 high-speed cruise and 3,000-nm range will make it the fastest and longest-legged one as well. Powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307B turbofans rated at 6,100 lb. thrust, and featuring a three-screen Vision cockpit with Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics, the aircraft lists for $19.66 million.

While Bombardier doesn’t disclose its investment in any particular aircraft development program, the amount of money needed to bring the Model 85 to life is obviously formidable. First, there was the construction of a 185,000-sq.-ft. production facility in Querétaro, Mexico, plus equipping it with composite tooling, where about 85% of the aircraft will be manufactured.

Then there’s the rejuvenation and expansion of Learjet’s home at Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport where the aircraft will be flight tested, assembled, completed, painted and delivered. Bombardier’s investment in Wichita goes well beyond accommodating the Model 85 and includes expanding the company’s flight test center, establishing an engineering and information technology hub, and building a new paint facility and customer delivery facilities.

All totaled, the new jet and the facilities expansion, the largest in Learjet’s history, represents an investment of more than $600 million, including grants and financial incentives from the state, county and federal governments. In 2010, Kansas offered $27 million in bond financing to help secure Bombardier’s commitment to the Wichita site and the 450 new jobs it represents; this past January, the state approved another $16 million in bonds for the project.

Considering that Learjet has been particularly hard hit by the light jet recession — it delivered just 46, 28 and 43 airplanes in 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively — that still shows little signs of improvement, Bombardier’s investment in the division is notable.

“It’s been a long, long time since Learjet has seen this level of transformation and excitement,” said Ralph Acs, vice president and general manager. “The market is tough,” he acknowledged, “but that doesn’t mean you don’t invest. We prefer to be bold” by investing in new models, infrastructure and personnel. “We feel good about that,” he said.

— William Garvey

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