Bombardier is creating Wichita as a center of excellence (COE) for Learjet as it transitions its facilities and employees there from production to maintenance and support of the line of light and midsize jets. The move comes as company executives are hoping to reinforce to the market that activity at the Wichita site continues to flourish.
In February, the Canadian manufacturer announced it was ending Learjet production this year as it laid out a comprehensive plan to reduce costs and become a pure-play business aviation entity that focused on its more profitable Global and Challenger aircraft families. The decision wasn’t taken lightly, president and CEO Éric Martel had said, noting, “The iconic Learjet has had a remarkable and lasting impact on business aviation."
With more than 3,000 Learjets delivered since first entering the market in 1963 and more than 2,000 still in service, Bombardier executives stressed this week that the company was not abandoning the brand, but instead making plans to step up efforts in the maintenance and support arenas.
Bombardier is actually planning to hand over the final Learjet early next year, but the transition is already underway with hangars being shifted to its support and other activities as production begins to wind down.
In addition, Bombardier has begun to train Learjet production workers to become certified airframe and powerplant technicians to continue its support of the fleet. Chris Debergh, v-p of OEM parts and services for Bombardier, said this was a natural move because these workers are most familiar with the product line. He estimated that it affects 130 to 150 employees.
As a COE, Wichita will not only be a major maintenance center for Learjet but also serve as the “heart of engineering” for the family including future and existing modifications and other support, including a parts store.
Bombardier had already rolled out its “Racer” remanufacturing program for the Learjet 40 and 45 with a bundled set of enhancements that will be carried out in Wichita. Unveiled as the end of new production was announced, the Racer program involves updating both interior and exterior components.
The Wichita site is central to its Learjet efforts not only for the built-in expertise and capabilities already there but for its location in the middle of the U.S. market, which is key for aircraft operators to access, Debergh added.
Jean-Christophe Gallagher, executive v-p of services, support, and strategy for Bombardier, had noted questions raised by some after the Learjet announcement about the prospects for the Wichita site, but he stressed its existing footprint there is needed as demand for services continues and that the site is “alive and well.” In fact, the location houses more than 1,000 workers.
Along with announcing the Racer program, Bombardier had declared Wichita as its COE for special mission aircraft that are used for a range of activities, including air ambulance, military such as the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) aircraft program, and other support uses. Some of the Learjet hangars will be transitioned for this use as well. The site also is home to Bombardier’s flight-test programs, as well as the site of its largest service center that supports the range of Bombardier aircraft.
Named the home base for support of NetJets’s Bombardier fleet, the location is continuing to grow with four hangars added in recent years and another one or two possible. The addition of the dedicated Learjet COE provides additional capacity for its maintenance activity there.