'Easy' flight-test program yields Learjet 40 approval

 - July 31, 2008, 7:11 AM

The Learjet 40 received its FAA type certificate on July 11 as an amendment to the certification of the Learjet 45 from which it is derived. The Learjet 40 is a truncated (by 24.5 inches) version of the Learjet 45, sharing most of the same systems. Delivery of the first customer aircraft is expected early next year. The approval gives Bombardier a new entrée in the light jet market, with a seamless upgrade path to the rest of the Canadian manufacturer’s product line.

Thanks to all the commonality with the Learjet 45, the Model 40’s certification
program lasted roughly a year from program announcement, with a pair of test aircraft flying approximately 90 hours and 110 hours, respectively. “The flight-test program was as easy and clean as any I have ever been part of,” said David Schenck, Bombardier v-p of developmental aircraft programs.

Schenck would not reveal any sales numbers or the status of the order book for the newest Learjet, but said, “Market interest has been very encouraging.” The first flight-test airplane, S/N 45-2001, now becomes the company demonstrator. With the optional red-on-black “Indianapolis 500” interior, it made its first appearance at the Paris Air Show in June following a European sales tour. “We’re happy with the order intake,” he said, “especially in the current depressed market.” At press time, JAA certification was said to be imminent. Eurojet Italia, an Italian charter/management firm, has been identified as the European launch customer.

Bombardier would also not reveal how many or what percentage of production Learjet 40s would be going to its Flexjet fractional-ownership division. Schenck did say the Learjet sister company was a customer, but added, “We are not reliant on that market segment. We want a mixed portfolio [of buyers].” Scott Wight, manager of program planning for Learjet, said pricing is expected to increase after the end of this fiscal year, which for Bombardier closes next January 31.

It was at the Farnborough Air Show in July last year that Bombardier Business Aircraft confirmed plans for the Learjet 40, a six-passenger version of the existing eight-passenger, $10.26 million Learjet 45. With its estimated $7.74 million equipped selling price, the Learjet 40 takes square aim at Cessna’s $7.56 million Encore, and has displaced Bombardier’s own slow-selling Learjet 31A, of which a total of 242 were built from 1988 until last November, when the model was discontinued. The enhanced Honeywell TFE731-20BR-powered Model 45XR (due for certification by year end) will round out the 40-series family at $10.84 million.

Actual delivery prices on Learjet 40s are expected to vary significantly since some owners are expected to go soft on options (consistent with the light jet category) while others are expected to look at the 40 as a smaller version of the 45 and equip their aircraft accordingly. According to Wight, the variation could amount to as much as $400,000.

The reason for the lag between certification and first deliveries harks back to some bad experiences with the introduction of the Learjet 45. A spokesman said that some FAA-mandated modifications after certification required recalling customer aircraft and, literally, pulling them apart to change some hardware in the de-ice/anti-icing system. “Based on lessons learned the hard way,” said the spokesman, “the decision was made to provide some buffer time between certification and first customer deliveries.”

At the time the Learjet 40 was introduced, Bombardier’s then-v-p of Learjet and Challenger development, Claude Chidiac, pointed out that the Learjet 45, certified in 1997, was the first clean-sheet Learjet to come from the company since the first Learjet 23 was certified in 1964. In the intervening years all “new” Learjet models had been progressively certified as derivative aircraft until the 45 came along. (The company had its problems with the FAA in the process. Learjet 45 certification was two years behind schedule.)

Downsizing the 45 to come up with the Learjet 40 was a way for Bombardier to tap the light jet market with minimal investment in research and development or certification costs. Extensive market research showed that low acquisition cost was high on the list of features that would attract light jet owner/operators. (Range, direct operating costs, speed/performance and cabin comfort rounded out the top-five drivers.) Pricing the Learjet 40 some $2.5 million below the 45 clearly addresses that issue.

Besides the 24.5-inches-shorter fuselage (and cabin), some other slight differences between the 40 and the 45 include three fewer windows (13 rather than 16), and somewhat less range (1,724 nm, NBAA IFR) due to a 110-gallon reduction in fuselage fuel-tank capacity. Also, the optional APU on the 45 is not available on the shorter-coupled 40 due to c.g. considerations.

The interior follows the form of Bombardier’s redesigned cabin for the rest of the 40-series line. Seat- back size has been shaved by 1.5 inches per seat, resulting in more legroom for all passengers. Outboard armrests can be removed for two inches more seat width without cutting into aisle space. The galley has been improved and can now store eight standard serving trays.

On the maintenance side, the Learjet 40 offers improved exterior access to systems such as the brake-control unit and the spoileron computer. Both are located behind the aft lavatory bulkhead. All line-replaceable units in the interior have been redesigned to allow removal or installation in less than 20 minutes. Lighting has been converted to LEDs with 10,000-hour life expectancy, low current draw and low heat output.

Bombardier especially touts the speed of the Learjet 40-series family. In the competition among light jets, the littlest Learjet lays claim to being faster than the Citation Encore by 12 minutes on a New York-to-Chicago trip; 18 minutes from Dallas to Los Angeles; and 50 minutes from Athens to London. (According to the Learjet 40 promotional material, the Encore doesn’t have the fuel capacity to complete the 453-nm Athens-to-London trip at its high-speed cruise Mach number, so it would have to fly at its lower, long-range-cruise speed.)

Learjet also has high hopes for the appeal of type-rating and systems commonality among the trio of 40-series models. All systems are the same, with the exception of the aforementioned fuel system. All are equipped with the Honeywell Primus 1000 avionics suite and the Universal UNS-1E flight management system. A second FMS is optional.

Bombardier also noted that the Learjet 45, and thus the derivative Model 40, was certified to all the latest FAA and JAA standards–FAR Part 25 amendment 77 and JAR Part 25 Change 13. That involves 16g-seat certification, birdstrike testing to the latest amendments, flight-manual presentations for takeoff and landing performance, and the latest standards of icing testing. The business jet siblings also share parts and warranty programs (including engine maintenance service plans), pilot type ratings, maintenance and tool systems and change boards for common field solutions.

As an interesting side note to the Learjet 45XR story, in June 2001 Bombardier offered Learjet 45 owners (and those with orders in place) the option to sign up for free access to a planned 1,000-pound mtow increase. The Service Bulletin was scheduled to be in place within a year. Subsequently, in researching the requirements for the mtow increase, Learjet engineers uncovered other potential enhancements in hot-and-high capability, and the project evolved into the derivative Model 45XR. Of those operators and order-holders eligible for the free mtow increase, said Wight, only a bit more than half took advantage. He said, “The 45XR was scoped out for those who needed the payload and hot-and-high capability, and most of today’s new buyers are opting for the XR version.” Apparently, higher-payload missions were not an issue for those Model 45 customers who chose not to upgrade two years ago.