Bombardier is banking the future of the Learjet brand on its new, all-composite Model 85. And in doing so, it has placed a good portion of its chips on a new facility in Santiago de Querétaro, México, where it has reserved some four million square feet at the international airport where the Canadian company plans to build all the primary aircraft structure and wiring harnesses.
Querétaro International Airport itself is only five years old. It is served by Aeroméxico, Continental Airlines and MéxicanaLink, and the 11,483- by 148-ft runway is capable of handling aircraft as large as the Airbus A380. Located about 150 miles northwest of México City, the airport is the hub of a major industry and technology boom, and other major manufacturers, such as Safran Group, have already moved into new facilities there.
According to Real Gervais, v-p of operations at the Querétaro facility, a well-developed infrastructure is already in place, a population of slightly more than 1.6 million in Querétaro State provides a low-turnover workforce and the fast-growing Bombardier México Manufacturing Center there represents a gateway to the growing Latin American market.
And Bombardier’s aspirations for Querétaro are not limited to the Learjet 85. Structures already being built there include the Challenger 850 mid-fuselage, the Q400 flight control package (including rudder, elevator and horizontal stabilizer) and the aft fuselage on the Global 5000 and Global Express XRS. Also produced at the Mexico facility are main wiring harnesses for the CRJ700/900 series, the Challenger 300 and the Global Express. Bombardier claims that since starting operations at Querétaro, it has delivered more than 65,000 components consisting of harnesses and subassemblies.
The current focus at Querétaro, however, is on the Learjet 85, scheduled for entry into service in 2013. It will be Bombardier’s first all-composite business jet and the first all-composite business jet ever to be certified to Part 25.
Bombardier had initially entered a partnership with German manufacturer Grob Aerospace to help develop the structure and build the first three prototypes. Grob, however, ran into financial difficulties. Its subsequent insolvency in 2008 caused Bombardier to announce in September that year that it would terminate the agreement and take over complete responsibility for the detail design and manufacturing of all primary and secondary structures. The Canadian OEM had always planned to manufacture the production Learjet.
Today, responsibilities for Learjet 85 development have been divided among three sites, including Wichita, the traditional home of the Learjet line where the aircraft are assembled and completed.
At the nearby El Marques site, work has already begun with a core of trained Mexican technicians that produce composite models and coupons to ensure technology readiness and validate the processes. The composite process includes hand layup of pre-preg materials and heat curing rather than the more complex and considerably more expensive autoclave method.
Also part of the ramp-up is an agreement with the nearby Universidad Nacional Aeronáutical where students receive some 900 hours of instruction, including health and safety, contact molding, composite repairs and on-the-job training.
While the $17 million, eight-passenger twinjet essentially will be constructed of composite materials, including fuselage, wings and tail section, there will be a basic metal skeleton to dissipate lightning energy sufficiently to avoid damage to the airplane.
Wiring harnesses will be assembled and installed at Querétaro before shipment, along with all the composite sections, to Wichita where the airplane will be assembled and the cabin completion work done prior to delivery.
Two proof-of-concept fuselages have already been completed in Montreal, all wind-tunnel testing has been completed and the aircraft’s outside mold has been frozen. Detailed design is to begin before the end of the year.
At this point, the total Learjet 85 workforce at Querétaro consists of 53 Mexican technicians who have more than six months of training. Including Montreal and Wichita, a total of 1,078 people are involved in the program. The original projection has been to have some 2,000 employees at work by this time, but Bombardier officials said this number was adjusted “as a result of the economic situation.” The company expects that by the time full production begins in Querétaro, there will be about 600 Mexican workers on site, in addition to approximately 200 Canadians.
“We are currently nearing completion of the joint definition phase and we have firm agreements with all major suppliers on the program, including propulsion, air systems, avionics, electrical, hydromechanics, structures and interiors,” said Learjet 85 vice president Ralph Acs.
While it is an innovative design on many levels–the first all-new Learjet design in 15 years and the largest Learjet to be built to date–Bombardier claims that the airplane remains true to its “legendary heritage.”
The Learjet 85 is substantially larger than previous iterations and, in fact, is closer to a Challenger in terms of cabin size, but its sharply pointed nose and delta fins leave no doubt as to its Learjet heritage. At the same time, said Gervais, the $17 million price point places the 85 neatly between the smaller, $13.652 million Learjet 60XR and the larger Challenger 300 priced at about $21 million.
It is the loyalty of more than 600 Learjet owners that prompted the choice of a Learjet heritage. A study by Bombardier showed that present Learjet owners would look especially favorably on being able to trade up to yet another Learjet that had 3,000-plus-nmi range and room for two to four more passengers. While Bombardier declines to provide order numbers, the company did reveal at the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) in May that the book is in excess of 60 aircraft.
The Learjet 85 is powered by twin Pratt & Whitney PW307B turbofans, each producing 6,100 pounds of takeoff thrust and featuring “greener” noise levels. Also included is an advanced low nitrous oxide emission combustor to further reduce negative environment impact. The airplane is expected to have a high-speed cruise of Mach 0.82 and transcontinental range. Plans include Rockwell Collins’s latest Pro Line Fusion avionics.
And so, Bombardier continues to move ahead with the Learjet 85 development, anticipating that when the aircraft is certified in 2013 the economic recovery will be well under way and the company will be prepared to ramp up to fill what it believes will be a substantial backlog.