State of the industry: Canadian airframer plans ‘Super Global’

NBAA Convention News » 2010
October 13, 2010, 12:12 PM

The buzz, as these words are written, is that Bombardier planned to unveil a “Super Global” here at the NBAA Convention, and in the end the ­company was not able to maintain complete radio silence. Possibly alarmed at the prospect of too much substantial chatter erupting ahead of time, the company chose to confirm the basic premise of its planned announcement on September 30.

The pre-convention speculation represents something of a turning of the tables. For years, this same variety of scuttlebutt had been scrutinizing the fuselage diameter of the Gulfstream large-cabin business jets, which, while growing dramatically longer in both feet of cabin length and nautical miles of range over the decades, had remained unchanged in cabin width since the marque was introduced in 1958 as a twin turboprop.

It was the Canadair/Bombardier Challenger and Global Express that first focused attention on the Gulfstream cross section as being suddenly less spacious, and not until unveiling the G650 in March 2008 did Gulfstream finally bust out of the aging GI/II/III/IV/V/550 cross-section mold and increase its biggest jet’s structural cabin width. The G650 increases cabin width by 14 inches beyond the G550’s and two inches beyond that of the Global 5000 and Global Express XRS. Would Bombardier spend a billion dollars to eliminate a two-inch shortfall and challenge the G650 on speed and range?

It could be argued that Bombardier’s advantage in cabin width thus far with the Global has been handicapped somewhat by the Canadian ­airplane’s relatively antiquated cathode-ray-tube avionics (now, finally, addressed by the adoption of a Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion suite ­available soon on new aircraft–part of the Global Vision cockpit–and retrofittable Honeywell ­Primus Elite displays for in-service ­aircraft) and by Gulfstream’s enduring leadership in product support–factors that ­complicate apples-to-apples comparisons and exemplify the variables manipulating the purchase decision for a big-ticket long-range jet.

So now the pressure is presumed to be on Bombardier to mount a counter offensive to the G650, which has already attracted orders for some 200 copies of what will be Gulfstream’s new flagship. Until Bombardier revealed details of the new jet at this convention, the question was whether a “Super Global” would be an aerodynamic/engines/systems upgrade of the current Global Express XRS (requiring perhaps $200 million in development money) or an all-new airplane requiring as much as $1 billion to develop, test and certify.

Learjet Future
That’s the conundrum facing Bombardier management in the large-cabin, ultra-long-range segment. Lower down, the dilemma is more the future of Learjet, which is pinning its hopes on the all-composite Learjet 85 currently under development while watching demand wither for its existing Wichita-built offerings.

To Bombardier Business Aircraft, the recession has been most evident in sagging sales of the Learjet 40XR and 45XR. In the first half of 2009, Learjet delivered 22 examples of the 40XR/45XR but only nine in the same period this year. The 60XR managed one gain in the first half of this year, logging six deliveries versus five in the first half of last year.

Shipments of the Challenger 300 super-midsize slid to 14 aircraft in the first half of this year from 19 in the first half of 2009, and the large-cabin Challenger 605 almost held its own (23 in this year’s first half versus 24 in the same period last year). The Global 5000 and Global Express XRS logged a combined 25 deliveries in this first half, versus 31 in last year’s first half. Shipments of the CL850/870/890 actually made gains in this year’s first half, climbing to five from three in the first six months of last year. Overall, the trend for Bombardier has been inching in the right direction for the past five quarters, with net orders for business aircraft climbing from minus 53 to two, four, six and most recently 14.

Wichita-based Learjet is facing the same painful labor decisions that bedevil Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft and, like those crosstown competitors, has looked south to save money by having systems and subassemblies made in Mexico. All primary structure for the composite Learjet 85 will be made at a Bombardier-owned facility in Querétaro, about 130 miles north of Mexico City, but final assembly will take place in Wichita–for now holding on to its title of Air Capital of the World but less firmly than it has for the past seven or so decades.

This past summer, in return for an assurance it would keep Learjet 85 final assembly in Wichita, Bombardier secured an agreement under which the state of Kansas will provide $27 million in bond financing to help build a new paint facility, customer delivery center and production flight-test facility in Wichita. All told, Bombardier said it will be investing $600 million in the Learjet 85 program in Wichita, creating at least 300 new jobs in a city that sorely needs them.

Infrastructure Investments
Bombardier Aerospace is investing some $35 million over the next five years to structure a worldwide service and maintenance network. In March the Canadian airframer opened its new $8 million wholly owned service center at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Currently leased from Martinair, the space provides 45,339 sq ft, and an initial staff of 37 is expected to expand to 50 by year-end. The hangar is capable of accommodating a combination of eight Learjets, four Challengers and two Globals.

Bombardier’s training network will employ five more business jet simulators in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East by early next year, including the first full flight simulator for the Learjet 40/40XR and Learjet 45/45XR, which was qualified in April at CAE’s Burgess Hill Training Centre in the UK. Another CAE location in Europe is expected to add a Challenger 300 simulator this year. Both the Learjet 40/45 and Challenger 300 simulators will offer the first training programs for these jets in Europe.

Also in April, the Emirates-CAE training facility in Dubai began offering training in a Global Express simulator.

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