Éric Martel, President and CEO at Bombardier, took the company reins in the midst of the COVID pandemic, at a time when it was transitioning to become an all-business aircraft OEM
Bombardier in its present form emerged just as pandemic hit the world. You were newly installed at the helm – how did you navigate your way through?
I’m proud of Bombardier’s transition to a pureplay business jet company – the first half of 2021 was amazing and we’re leading the industry in deliveries. And we accomplished this while navigating through the pandemic.
Our number one priority, of course, has always been the health and safety of our employees and the communities in which we operate. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our teams worked tirelessly to establish and implement procedures and safeguards to protect the well-being of our employees around the world.
At the same time, we needed Bombardier to be a more profitable and predictable company. After a thorough deep dive of every aspect of the business, we put in place a series of priorities to help manage the company short and long term, and defined a clear vision for the organisation. These included managing the business through the pandemic, aligning business jet production with demand, continuing to grow the aftermarket business, and resetting the company culture to be more accountable and focused on operational excellence.
It wasn’t easy. We had to make some difficult decisions along the way, including rightsizing the business to reduce costs. But looking at where we are now, we made the right decisions – Bombardier is a much stronger company and well on its way towards accomplishing the goals we set out in our five-year plan. We have a healthier balance sheet, a steadfast commitment to operational excellence, and we’re leading the industry in performance and in the value we bring to our customers.
Between 2002 and 2015 you worked at Bombardier in various roles, including President of Bombardier Business Aircraft, President Bombardier Aerospace Services and Vice-President and General Manager of the Global and Challenger programmes. You returned to the company in April 2020. While you were away, the Global 5500, 6500 and 7500 appeared, while the iconic Learjet has now gone. How would you characterise today’s portfolio?
We have the best portfolio in the industry, with products that are exceptional and ideally suited to the needs of our customers.
The large- and medium-category aircraft are where we are seeing the trends now. These categories will generate approximately 90% of total industry revenues from new aircraft deliveries and they’ve also shown greater resilience through economic cycles. The Challenger and Global aircraft are highly competitive and it’s clear from their success that this trend will continue well into the future.
Bombardier is extremely well positioned for success in the large and medium categories. From our Challenger 350 up to the flagship Global 7500, we have a diverse portfolio of competitive business jets. We have a large installed base of loyal customers around the world; they know that our aircraft are reliable, and they also know that we are there to support them.
Bombardier has taken significant fleet orders in recent months. Such deals are rare in business aviation. What’s your secret?
We’re thrilled with the success of our aircraft among fleet operators. For many years, we’ve had solid relationships with large-fleet operators and we’re happy to see more charter businesses expanding. More than ever, the pandemic has underlined the value and safety of private aviation.
I wish I could say there was some secret, but the bottom line is that we make great business jets and our portfolio is the best in the industry. Our family of aircraft has all the attributes fleet operators are looking for in a business aircraft – performance, reliability and comfort.
Moreover, we’re laser-focused on providing an outstanding customer experience, which is why we are growing our services and support footprint by 50%. We have the expertise and the best trained people to provide an unparalleled level of service and experience.
What’s your favourite Bombardier aircraft and why?
That’s a tough question to answer – it’s like asking a parent to choose a favourite child!
Each of the business jets in our portfolio has the unique Bombardier DNA that our customers are looking for – performance, reliability and comfort. Our long-range, large-cabin Global aircraft are the industry’s leading business jet family, renowned for their ability to fly long distances, exceptional passenger experience and smooth ride.
The Global 7500 is the industry flagship. It’s unique; no other business jet on the market today compares. It’s been in service for almost three years now and we couldn’t be happier with how it’s exceeding our expectations. The latest additions, the Global 5500/Global 6500, have all the outstanding features of the Global 5000/Global 6000 plus performance enhancements, including a new engine and wing, bringing these aircraft to a whole new level in their class.
Challenger aircraft are the industry’s best-sellers for many reasons: they are highly reliable, high-performing business jets, considered to be the workhorses of the industry and very efficient to operate from a cost perspective. The highly dependable Challenger 650 is a popular choice among operators for demanding missions including medevac and maritime surveillance because of its consistent performance and reliability. And the best-selling Challenger 350 business jet is the most successful in the super mid-size segment year after year. Its reliability, speed, performance, cabin experience and operating costs make it popular among fleet operators.
What’s your favourite aircraft that’s not a Bombardier product? Why?
One aircraft that resonates with me, especially in our current environment, is Viking’s CL‑415. It’s probably one of the most recognisable aircraft in the world, and it’s versatile for aerial firefighting but also for maritime and rescue purposes. With many wildfires raging around the world today, it’s an aircraft that is highly effective in containing large fires.
Bombardier and its competitors now offer aircraft with half-world range, so is the next step to go faster? Can we expect Bombardier to go supersonic, and sustainable, anytime soon?
Flying further and faster have always been important trends in business aviation. There’s a great deal of discussion in the industry regarding the development of next-generation supersonic aircraft, and we’re watching these developments very closely but, right now, we have the products the market is demanding.
But with speed and range, customers are also looking for business jets that provide a comfortable passenger experience as well as sustainable solutions. The Global 7500, for example, has an impressive record when it comes to speed and can easily fly at M0.925. It’s also at the forefront of sustainability: it’s the first business jet to have an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), which declares the aircraft’s environmental impact throughout its lifecycle, and its wing and engine design contribute to lower emissions and fuel burn.
Regardless of international ambitions for aviation to become carbon neutral by 2050, reducing emissions is an imperative. Bombardier has done amazing things with the Global 7500, but what more can be done?
I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished at Bombardier. The Global 7500 set the bar for business jets going forward, not only in terms of performance, range and passenger experience, but also from an environmental perspective. And we’re going to continue to set the benchmark. Reducing the carbon footprint of our products and processes is a priority, and we’ll be spending a majority of our R&D money on technologies that will reduce emissions.
Moreover, we all need to work collaboratively as an industry. Bombardier has been at the forefront of the industry’s commitment to the environment, and we all need to continue to increase the awareness and adoption of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Our industry can make a significant difference in the fight against climate change, not in shifting the number of hours we fly or how fast, but through regular use of SAF, which is one of the most important initiatives we have to make a difference.
Has COVID fundamentally changed the business aviation industry? What changes have you seen? And can we expect a full Bombardier presence at the NBAA show?
The pandemic has reinforced just how much of a global community we really are, and it highlighted the safety and security of private air travel. While commercial air traffic remained stalled at the height of the pandemic, business jet utilisation recovered much faster, with new customers entering the business jet market, especially from a fleet and charter perspective. The pandemic introduced business aviation to a new segment of market and broadened its business base, essentially untapping demand for private air travel. We’re seeing great momentum from the market and the level of activity is solid. Moreover, we’re in a strong position with a great portfolio of products and a healthy backlog.
In early September, our intention is that Bombardier will participate in the National Business Aviation Association Convention and Exhibition. We are looking forward to an exciting event and showcasing our world-class products and services.