By Rebecca Rayko, AWN Editor
Bombardier Aerospace began NBAA '99 with a business aviation milestone. The company celebrated the 2,000th delivery of the famous Learjet line of business jets in a ceremony October 10 at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport.
Hundreds were on hand to witness a flyover of the three Learjet models currently in production - the Learjet 31A, Learjet 60 and Learjet 45. Special guests included Moya Lear, wife of the late Learjet founder, Bill Lear. Learjet was acquired by Bombardier in June 1990.
The milestone 2000th aircraft, a Learjet 45, was delivered to longtime Bombardier supplier and customer Parker Hannifin and will be based at its Cleveland, Ohio, headquarters.
"It's fitting that we are marking this important milestone with such a loyal customer and supplier. We have been doing business together since Parker provided components for the very first Learjet aircraft in the 1960s," said Bombardier Aerospace president Mike Graff.
In all, Learjet's 2,000 deliveries are divided among its 11 different models. The Learjet 35 has the most deliveries recorded with 673. The latest addition to the product line, the Learjet 45, was developed from a clean sheet of paper. It received FAA certification in September 1997 and began deliveries in July 1998.
Bombardier says it is on its way to posting its best year in business jet deliveries with a strong performance from its entire family of bizjets in the first nine months of this year.
So far, a total of 127 business aircraft have been delivered in 1999, an increase of 67% over the same period in 1998. Deliveries are broken down as 20 Learjet 31As, 30 Learjet 45s, 24 Learjet 60s, 31 Challenger 604s and 22 Global Express.
The new president of Bombardier's Business Aircraft division, Robert Gillespie, says this strong delivery performance will continue in the final quarter of the year as the company enters full production of the Learjet 45 and increases deliveries of the Global Express.
The NBAA show marked a changing of the guard for this unit of Bombardier. Gillespie returns to the business aircraft unit after an 18-month absence. Gillespie most recently was president of Bombardier's regional aircraft division. He was also one of three Bombardier executives who founded the company's fractional ownership program FlexJets.
FlexJet is growing rapidly, Bombardier says, which is largely fueling the company's increased production rates. With 365 owners, FlexJet has grown to nearly half the size of fractional pioneer NetJets (904 owners) at nearly one-third of the time.
The FlexJet program now has 70 aircraft and expects to see 87 in the fleet by year's end. This is a 47% increase over 1998 fleet levels. And growth is not expected to slow anytime soon, says Mike Riegel, FlexJet vice president of sales and marketing, with huge demands coming from the high-tech and real estate markets.
FlexJet Europe was launched at the Paris Air Show in June with the Learjet 31A, Learjet 60 and Challenger models. The program will feature a 12 aircraft fleet by 2001. Although interest is strong in Europe, Riegel says the company is very cautious about bringing the fractional program to other world regions.
In light of the ongoing contentious nature of the fractional ownership issue, Riegel emphasized that Bombardier hasn't forgotten its roots in the corporate flight department community.
"Seventy percent of our business is with flight departments," he says. "There are no direct approaches to companies that own aircraft. We don't enter dialogs with companies unless the flight department is at the table."
Their philosophy is to encourage whole ownership of aircraft when possible, Riegel stressed, not forgetting that Bombardier's core business is to sell aircraft to customers.
"We work hard to move fractional owners to whole aircraft ownership," he adds.
The first Learjet 45 joined the FlexJet fleet this year, and 16 will be in the fleet in 2000. The first six Continental business jets, launched at NBAA '98, are reserved for FlexJet. The first will join the fleet in fourth quarter 2002. Customers are queuing up for the new bizjet, Riegel says, and FlexJet wants the company to increase production.
The first two Global Express jets will join FlexJets next year as well.