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On the one hand- the state of commercial air travel continues to encourage more companies to use corporate aircraft to transport executives and other staff members to important appointments. The shorter the lead time- the more complex the routing and the more competitive the business jet.

Dave Higdon   |   1st June 2003
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Bombardier endures changes while adapting to new realities in the aviation marketplace.

From all reports- the business of business aviation remains in something of a conflicted state. On the one hand- the state of commercial air travel continues to encourage more companies to use corporate aircraft to transport executives and other staff members to important appointments. The shorter the lead time- the more complex the routing and the more competitive the business jet.

On the other hand- demand for new business turbine aircraft remains at a low point- as companies postpone first-time acquisitions and model upgrades. Instead- much of the aviation market seems to favor use of on-demand charter aircraft (in place of a first-time or fleet-expansion purchase)- upgrades of existing business aircraft (instead of trading up) or simply leaving the old aircraft as it is.

The transportation conglomerate Bombardier Inc. and its aviation unit- Bombardier Aerospace- adapted to these unusual times using a combination of steps taken to help offset the impact of reduced demand and the resulting smaller advanced order book.

But with forecasters starting to see the current state of aircraft sales as the bottom of the trough- there seems little doubt that Bombardier’s tough decision making will keep the planemaker a contender as conditions begin to improve; at least- that’s the perspective if forecasts come true and recovery surges in late 2004 and into early 2005.

Helping the position of Bombardier Aerospace is some strong market savvy and smart advanced planning geared to improving the planemaker’s aircraft product competitiveness in a highly competitive field.

Bombardier Large:

Midway through December 2002- long-time Bombardier executive Robert E. Brown asked the company board to relieve him of his responsibilities as chief executive officer and the board concurred- appointing Paul Tellier as his replacement.

So the transportation giant started 2003 with a new CEO- as Tellier- previously the head of Canadian National Corp.- assumed his new post on January 13. Tellier came to the company with several areas in flux- not the least of them the aerospace division.

Sales of both new business jets and new Q400 turboprop airliners were low; production of the Learjet models was starting a four-month hiatus- throwing hundreds of workers into furloughed status for the period. Overall- more than 3-000 people were being cut from the Bombardier payroll – layoffs that followed several hundred the prior year. Additionally- workers at plants in Montreal- Toronto and Wichita were about to be asked to make contract concessions designed to help the company stay afloat and avoid wider layoffs and furloughs.

In early April- Bombardier Inc. even spun off Bombardier Recreational Products- a division that included Sea Doo personal watercraft and sport boats- Ski Doo snowmobiles (Bombardier’s original product) and other products. The divestiture followed the November 2002 sale of Bombardier’s Fish Hawk line of sport boats.

Among the other products sold in the recreational products package was Bombardier Rotax- the Austrian manufacturer of lightweight engines for all the above products- racing Karts- and light/ultralight aircraft.

Instead- Bombardier preferred to capitalize on the popularity and current profitability of these products rather than retain them for their long-term potential. That decision is noteworthy for its timing- only weeks ahead of the release of pending FAA regulations that launch an all-new segment of certificated aircraft geared for the casual pilot – a market segment Rotax dominated going back two decades.

Entering the second quarter of 2003- Bombardier Aerospace suffered reduced deliveries of new jets- similar to every other jet maker… tough times all around.

Yet with hints of economic conditions turning toward recovery within the next 18 months- Bombardier’s efforts to weather the ongoing downturn should position the planemaker for improved financial performance in the long term. And against that backdrop- Bombardier Aerospace continues to eke out advances that make more-promising news and herald better times ahead.

Bombardier’s Bounce:

In spite of economic conditions though- nothing stands still in the business of business aviation- good times or bad. According to the old line- not moving ahead equates to falling behind – a line with real meaning in the business aviation world. It’s a definitive trait for a realm that exists to move people and things by air.

In line with that- Bombardier Aerospace continues to move ahead even as hard times force the company to roll back production and employment. Business jet models advance- test flying and development proceed and marketing efforts continue- even as some parts of the Bombardier Aerospace production apparatus remain in hiatus.

For example- building primarily on the availability of aircraft formerly operated by Bombardier Flexjet- the company’s fractional-ownership program- Bombardier Aerospace in recent months launched and expanded its innovative Skyjet fixed-rate charter services.

The Skyjet service started in the U.S. but in early May was expanded across the Atlantic with the launch of Skyjet Europe. Both programs offer the distinction of an all-Bombardier fleet and highly competitive fixed-rate packages for clients willing to pre-purchase packages of charter flight time.

Elsewhere in the company- new-product news continues to support the future of Bombardier Aerospace. The company is on course to introduce four new jets into service in the next twenty months - the Learjet 45XR- the Challenger 300- Learjet 40 and Global 5000. In early May Bombardier presented the upcoming Challenger 300 (formerly the “Continental”) to the audience in attendance at the EBACE held in Geneva – the first European appearance for the new business jet. The European debut followed a successful showing at Aero-Expo in Acapulco- Mexico- in early March.

Touted as the “industry’s first true super-midsize business jet-” the Bombardier Challenger 300 offers a 3-100-mile range carrying eight passengers (and NBAA reserves).

The fourth of five Challenger 300s in the test program at Bombardier’s Wichita Flight Test Centre- the version shown at EBACE sported a full interior installed to validate the system design. If Bombardier hits its certification targets and gets the Challenger 300 into customer hands later this year- the new Challenger will be the first of the new so-called super-midsize class to achieve operational status… but it won’t be alone for long.

Work continues to move toward approval for three other Bombardier Aerospace bizjet models including the new super light Learjet 40 – a variant of the successful Learjet 45 – and the Learjet 45’s upgraded Learjet 45XR- as well as the high-speed- inter-continental Global 5000. Beyond new product development though- Bombardier also continues efforts to improve its products for the benefit of its customers.

Seeing the light:

Back in the States- tests of the Global Express with the Bombardier Enhanced Vision System (BEVS) in late April began a two-year program to prove the worth of this new solution for the challenges of low-visibility flight.

Destined to become standard equipment on all Global Express aircraft starting in 2005- BEVS provides the flight-deck crew with a high-resolution monochrome image of the landscape- runways- taxiways- obstructions and other details hidden to the human eye by smoke- haze- fog and low clouds.

Bombardier Aerospace’s Flight Test Center in Wichita structured the Bombardier Global Express test program of this proven infrared-sensor technology to validate several important items. Among the test items are: the use of the Head-up Flight Display System; the integration of data with RVSM systems; how ice accumulates on the fairing protecting the IR sensor; and other operational and physical traits.

Even before these tests began- Bombardier’s engineers in Montreal continued torture tests of the Global Express’ “Iron Bird” in an effort to demonstrate the long life and durability of the ultra-long-range business jet.

Bombardier ran ground tests to more than 30-000 cycles – effectively the equivalent of two life spans for the business jet. Buoyed by the strength and durability proven in these brutal tests- Bombardier Aerospace successfully extended the Iron Bird testing for a further 20-000 cycles – and the Global Express still exceeded regulatory requirements.

These tests are far more than some abstract program to win bragging rights or score points in marketing however. Findings from all 50-000 cycles worth of testing become the basis for structuring long-term maintenance and inspection programs by guiding engineers toward solutions geared to obviate as many problems in the field as possible.

Such efforts show up in the real world of business aviation flight operations in statistics such as the Global Express’ 46-month dispatch reliability figures: 99.28 percent – the highest in class- according to the manufacturer.

Taking care of business:

Globally- Bombardier Aerospace continues to refine its marketing and support operations- efforts designed to improve aircraft sales and encourage repeat business. In Europe- the most-recent change came in early May- when the company announced the strengthening and expansion of its sales offices on the continent and in the UK.

The appointment of Bob Horner as regional vice president of business aircraft sales for Europe and the naming of Sky Service Aviation as Bombardier’s first business aircraft for sale rep for Spain are only two of the steps the company took to improve its international market penetration.

The company also consolidated its European and UK aircraft sales efforts into new offices in London- from which three sales directors and eight business aircraft agents ply their trade. Farther west in the U.S.- Bombardier Aerospace recently consolidated its charter program- fractional marketing and used airplane sales offices into a single location in the Dallas area. Previously- the Flexjet program operated from its own offices- while the other programs worked from their own facilities.

Necessary cross-pollination between the offices encouraged the consolidation – as did logistics and economics.

Headed in the right direction:

Thanks to some key divestitures- consolidations and adjustments- Bombardier Aerospace appears on-track to weather the downturn that pummeled business aircraft sales markets and suppliers. Concessions from various unions and an eye to further consolidate its manufacturing operations over the next three years should help the company keep its costs under control.

New products in the pipeline and smart planning for aircraft sales and support of its product lines should assure Bombardier Aerospace plenty of new business in the future. All that’s really needed now is for recent hints of recovery to prove tangible.

The company’s airplane product line is diverse and competitive- its products high quality. All that’s really missing is a better buying environment. Otherwise- Bombardier Aerospace is ready.


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