With two new aircraft programs fast approaching the marketplace Gulfstream Aerospace is challenging Bombardier’s recent dominance as arguably the leading innovator for new jet designs. But this is no more than a case of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, as far as Bombardier Aerospace Business Aircraft president Steve Ridolfi is concerned.
“We feel good about what Gulfstream has done because copying is a form of flattery,” Ridolfi told AIN. He dismisses his rival’s new large-cabin, long-range G650 jet as a facsimile of Bombardier’s Global Express and the super-midsized G250 as a pale imitation of the Challenger 300.
Ridolfi refuted suggestions that Bombardier is losing ground to Gulfstream in the product development stakes after a decade in which the Canadian airframer seemed to have much more momentum than its U.S. rival. “The new Learjet 85 will shake up the midsized segment of the market and we have done the detailed design for this and are ready to start making parts in Mexico in June,” he said. “Global Vision [flight deck for the Global Express XRS aircraft] is on the way and heading for delivery.”
Bombardier clearly is still plotting more new programs. But it seems intent on leaving Gulfstream and the rest of us guessing about these for the time being–perhaps because it is growing tired of being, as it sees it, imitated.
Ridolfi arrives at this year’s EBACE show with a much rosier outlook than 12 months ago. “It is hugely better now,” he said. “Then there were [order] cancellations every day and no orders in sight. Since then the cancellations have stabilized and orders are happening. We are not quite back to normal and it will take a while to recover.”
According to Bombardier, the used aircraft sector of the market is no longer stagnant, with both prices and sales activity increasing markedly over the last two or three months. “The pipeline looks more solid in terms of longer-term sales,” said Ridolfi. “We are still not out of the woods, but we are certainly stable and in a slow climb.”
One factor in the partial reversal of fortunes for business aviation is the loosening up in the financial markets.
“Credit has improved quite a bit because the panic is no longer there [on the part of lenders],” explained Ridolfi. “The availability of financing has increased but it is on tougher terms.”
Demand in Europe, which in recent years has been a strong growth market for Bombardier, is still not picking up significantly during the early months of 2010. “But it continues to be a leading marketplace, a dominant part of the skyline, for us,” said Ridolfi, adding that at the same time prospects in China and India are “very exciting” and could yet provide the momentum to bring the industry out of recession.
Bombardier is projecting that its business aircraft production rates for 2010 will be about 15 percent down on 2009’s output of 176 units. This would mean output of around 150 jets and Ridolfi expects this level to be maintained going into 2011.
“We know this market is going to get better and that we can return to double-digit growth,” concluded Ridolfi. “All the factors that got us into business aviation are still there.”