Bombardier launches corporate shuttles

 - October 16, 2006, 6:50 AM

While many European companies still view business jets as “corporate barges” rather than genuine business tools, statistics show they are more likely to warm to corporate/executive shuttles. Perhaps this is because of a shuttle’s more utilitarian purpose as a transporter of a company’s employees rather than just the company’s executives. Whatever the reason, 29 percent of the world’s corporate/executive shuttle fleet resides in Europe, second only to North America at 49 percent.

Because of Europe’s prominence in this market, Bombardier Aerospace used last month’s EBACE as a platform to launch a new corporate/executive shuttle series. Dubbed the Challenger 850, 870 and 890, the three new shuttles are based on the 50-seat CRJ200 LR, 70-seat CRJ700 LR and 90-seat CRJ900 LR regional jets, respectively.

Interestingly, this move brings Bombardier’s CRJs full circle, since they are all derivatives of the Challenger 601 business jet. The three CRJ models and the Challenger 601/604 are also powered by the same engine–the General Electric CF34–though they all use different variants of the turbofan.

Bombardier’s new shuttles have a range capability of between 1,500 and 2,200 nm, depending on the chosen seating configuration. Challenger 300/600/800 series manager of project planning Scott White said the “average” price for the 850 is $25.2 million; the 870 is $30.9 million; and the 890 is $35.8 million (prices vary depending on chosen seating arrangement). The manufacturer is allocating 10 to 15 annual shuttle slots on its regional jet production line, he noted, and the time between orders and deliveries will be “less than 12 months.”

For several years Bombardier has been offering the Challenger 800–a shuttle also based on the CRJ200–on an ad hoc basis. But now the Canadian aircraft manufacturer has decided that it’s time to offer a more cohesive shuttle solution because companies are increasingly finding it harder to transport employees efficiently on the airlines, given tightened security, congestion at major airports, reduced airline service and more time-consuming connection flights.

Bombardier interviewed eight companies that currently operate shuttles–a list that included Ford Europe and DaimlerChrysler–and all agreed that shuttles reduce travel time, boost employees’ quality of life and promote better confidentiality. Additionally, seven of the companies claimed reduced ticket costs, five believed shuttles decrease other travel costs and four said they’ve seen increased travel productivity.

The worldwide shuttle fleet currently consists of 103 turboprops and 121 turbofans, of which only 12 are Challenger 800s. White told AIN that much of this shuttle fleet is aging and will need to be replaced with new airplanes over the coming years. Due to deteriorating airline service, he also expects a healthy amount of new entrants to boost market demand.

As part of its marketing strategy, Bombardier is targeting large organizations with strong balance sheets; corporations with multi-site and/or remote operations; and companies with large capital projects. Other potential customers include those affected by monopolistic hubs and those not well served by airlines.

While there’s a proven niche for shuttles, the market is currently fragmented, according to White. He maintains that Bombardier can be a dominant force in this growing segment by offering a complete line of shuttle products.

Challenger 850/870/890

Each of Bombardier’s shuttle platforms offers three seatingoptions–standard, split and deluxe– to cater to a wide variety of passenger loadings. The shuttles can carry up to three crewmembers (using the jumpseat) and two flight attendants (three in the split-cabin configuration on the 870 and 890).

The 850 and 870 are equipped with an aft lavatory, while the890 has both fore and aft lavatories. The galley of the standard versions is set up to serve only snacks, while the more expensive split-cabin and deluxe models have provisions for hot meals.

The executive seats in the split version are business jet-style seats–meaning that they arecomparable to those found on Challenger 300s and 604s. Additionally, the deluxe edition has all-leather business-class airline-style seats.

Other than the interiors, the Challenger 800-series aircraft are unchanged from their regional jet siblings, including aft baggage compartments and, in the 870 and 890, underfloor baggage space. (However, an optional underfloor baggage retrieval system is available on the 870 and 890, but not on its CRJ counterparts.)

In a standard configuration the Challenger 850 can fly 1,537 nm with its full load of 50 passengers in a 2+2 (airline) seating configuration, which provides overhead bins above all rows. The 1,920-nm-range split-cabin version carries 32 passengers–six in a separated executive cabin and 26 in the aft cabin, which has 2+2 seating and overhead bins on both sides. Seating 27 passengers in 2+1 (business-class) seating, the deluxe version has 2,232 nm range and right-hand-side overhead bins.

The standard Challenger 870, which has a range of 1,923 nm, holds 70 passengers in a 2+2 seating arrangement that has over- head bins. The 2,235-nm-range split-cabin model can carry 44 people–eight in two separated executive sections and 36 in the aft cabin, which has airline seating and overhead bins. In a deluxe configuration, the aircraft can fly 2,235 nm with 42 passengers in business-class-style seating, which has overhead bins on the right-hand side.

With a range of 1,721 nm, the standard Challenger 890 can accommodate 90 passengers in 2+2 seating, complete with overhead bins. The split-cabin edition holds 52 passengers–12 in three separated club-seat sections and 40 in the aft compartment, which has airline seating and overhead bins. Carrying 52 in business-class seating, the deluxe version has a range of 2,031 nm and right-hand-side overhead bins.

Regional Jet Pedigree, Business Jet Support

In addition to the shuttles’ aforementioned capabilities and features, Bombardier is touting as the strengths of the Challenger 800 series its proven regional jet pedigree coupled with a well established business jet product-support network.

White said the shuttles should mirror, or even better, the CRJ line’s 99.8-percent reliability record. This is because he expects the average Challenger 800-series shuttle to fly about 1,500 hours per year, about 1,000 hours less annually than a CRJ flies in regional airline service.

This solid track record is augmented by a dedicated multi-disciplinary team created just for the shuttles. The team spans from the sales director all the way to customer-support groups, and it includes a customer account manager who stays with the customer until the aircraft is delivered.

White believes that the Challenger 800 series represents “a great value” for any company that is considering a corporate shuttle. “We’re offering proven aircraft with superior comfort, dependability, reliability and support,” he concluded.