Global Reach, Learjet Legend

posted on 22nd March 2019
Global Reach, Learjet Legend

With the Global 5500 and 6500 nearing the end of their test campaign ready for first delivery later in 2019, it would seem entirely reasonable for Bombardier’s focus to be on perfecting the latest jets in its line. Perfection is no doubt what the Canadian manufacturer is seeking, but at the same time, it has found the capacity not only to prove the reach of its Global 7500, but also to extend the utility of a business aviation classic, the Learjet.

Bombardier delivered the first customer Global 7500 last December, immediately leasing it back as a demonstrator for the 2019 world tour, while it awaits completion of a dedicated company aircraft. By early March the 7500 had already truly travelled the world, accumulating 170 flying hours in the process and, according to a Bombardier spokesperson, ‘…demonstrating exceptional performance and reliability’.

Around 16 of those hours were accumulated during an 8,152nm trip between Singapore and Tucson, Arizona, the longest-ranged flight of any purpose-designed business jet ever. The aircraft also achieved the record for highest speed over the longest distance and landed with 4,300lb of fuel in its tanks, sufficient for another 90 minutes in the air.

Check Bombardier’s website and the headline for Global 7500 range is 7,700nm, yet the record flight covered in excess of 8,100nm; a cynic might suggest the aircraft was specially prepared and crewed. It seems only logical that the cabin ought to have been stripped back and, perhaps, additional fuel tanks fitted, while a crew of three might be the full complement. There could be no passengers or baggage, since both represent little more than ballast when extreme range is the ambition.

EVA asked Bombardier to come clean about the aircraft’s configuration. It did. And the response was surprising. A crew of three did, indeed, pilot the jet, but there were also three passengers. Between them, passengers, crew and luggage contributed towards the 900lb payload filed on the flight plan. It must have been an uncomfortable ride in that stripped-back cabin? Apparently not. “The cabin was not only fully representative of a typical aircraft, but included customer options – a large, permanent bed and a full-height wardrobe in the aft stateroom.”

The aircraft’s advantage must therefore have come from a specially trained crew, eking out every drop of performance? “No special crew was required, and the mission was performed well within the aircraft’s operating envelope,” was Bombardier’s laconic response.

It seems the Global 7500 is genuinely exceptional therefore, Bombardier confirming that its ability to fly high above commercial traffic at optimum altitudes for minimum fuel burn is an essential aspect of its long-range capability. The spokesperson further explained: “The priority was to show that customers could realistically fly such missions with ample fuel reserves. Thus, we decided to use our Long-Range Cruise [LRC] setting to maximise fuel at landing. The LRC setting results in variable speed, but works out overall to about Mach 0.85, allowing us to land with reserves well over NBAA IFR requirements.”

Bombardier describes the Global 7500 cockpit as ‘the industry’s most spacious’, also noting its ‘superior aesthetics’ and ‘permanent side-facing jump seat’. ‘Spacious’ and ‘superior’ might be down to individual interpretation, but the record flight crew reportedly had no complaints and also appreciated the jet’s crew rest area, a completely private, comfortable space furnished with two cabin windows and a berthable seat.

Learjet extension

While the Global 7500 wows at the heavy end of Bombardier’s scale, the iconic Learjet, in its latest Learjet 70 and 75 models, continues the famous lines’ 55-year history at the light end. Its developmental emphasis may firmly be on the Globals, but the OEM has not forgotten the beloved Learjet as it continues to introduce incremental improvements to the airframe, avionics and maintenance schedule.

In January, Bombardier announced an extension in major powerplant inspection intervals for the Learjet’s Honeywell TFE731 turbofan, from 3,000 to 3,500 hours, representing a considerable operator saving. Backed by extensive historical data, the extension is available without modifications to engines or airframe, while Bombardier notes for the future: “The FAA stipulates robust guidelines that ensure all extensions, regardless of the source, remain safe and do not compromise airworthiness.”

The original TFE731 was certified in 1972, but continuous improvement and technology insertion programmes have resulted in an efficient, digitally-controlled engine that the Learjet 70 and 75 employ in its TFE731-40BR version; the extended inspection interval applies to all -20 and -40 motors. On average, Bombardier says the change represents more than 12 months additional time between major inspections and that some customers are already enjoying the benefits.

Introduced to Bombardier operators via temporary revision (TR 5-17) to the Honeywell Light Maintenance Manual (LMM), the extension is available through Bombardier Business Aircraft’s network of nine global service centres and its authorised service facilities, spanning 26 countries.

Meanwhile, the airframer also announced a combined 25 million flying hours for the Learjet fleet, the Learjet 23 having entered service in 1964. More than 2,200 aircraft remain operational and, among them, the Learjet 70 and 75 are responsible for around 153,000 hours of flight time. And they’ll be responsible for many more hours aloft, since Bombardier has plans for them beyond maintenance boasts.

In fact, the Learjet 75 already received a significant comfort enhancement, along with a new cabin design, in 2016. The reworked interior includes a pocket door, separated from the cockpit and cabin and, according to Bombardier, reducing cabin noise by 8dB. It remains unique in the class and is far from the last investment in Learjet development.

This year, a Garmin G5000 (Garmin Phase 3) avionics upgrade becomes available for all Learjet 70 and 75 aircraft, as a retrofit package for in-service machines and on the production line. With a nod towards futureproofing, Bombardier says the updated avionics suite, on its Vision flight deck, brings: “…workload-reducing improvements, including climb, cruise and descent vertical navigation, enhanced take-off and landing performance calculations and more. In addition, FANS 1/A+, which will enable customers access the most efficient and favourable routes, will be offered as an option. It will ensure readiness for modernised airspace requirements and deliver efficiency gains that are expected to lower direct operating costs.”

Asian Expansion

But neither intercontinental reach nor a production history spanning almost half the period of controlled, heavier-than-air flight will earn the loyalty of discerning customers if aftersales support is lacking. Bombardier knows this as well as, perhaps even better than, its industry competitors and after announcing improvements to its service offering in Europe and the US, in February the OEM revealed plans for a major expansion of its Singapore Service Centre. The work will add additional hangar space, a paint facility, parts depot and enhanced interior finishing capacity in a quadrupling of the existing site’s space. Scheduled to open later in 2020, it will support in excess of 2,000 annual visits.

In a 26 February press release, Jean-Christophe Gallagher, Vice President and General Manager, Customer Experience, said the facility will offer “…access to the complete range of OEM customer service 24/7, 365 days a year. This expansion is another key building block in our drive to enhance the accessibility of our OEM expertise for customers worldwide and to solidify our position as a leader in aftermarket services in the Asia-Pacific region, a pivotal growing part of our global network.”

The expansion can be taken as evidence of the industry’s long-term commitment to the region and also of Bombardier’s intention to remain a leading player as business aviation expands through Asia-Pacific and especially in China. Few OEMs are perhaps better placed to service that expansion, since the Learjets and Challengers offer a varying combination of accommodation and regional range that perfectly complements the Global’s intercontinental performance, which brings the US and Europe easily into reach from Asia.