Éric Martel knows that Bombardier remains perceived, in the eyes of the public, as a company living on the hooks of the State. The president and CEO of the aircraft manufacturer hopes that the unveiling of the Challenger 3500, developed without government financial support, will allow it to partially tear off this label.
“It’s 100% of Bombardier’s money,” he explained, in an interview with Press ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, which took place at the Dorval facilities in addition to being broadcast online. It’s several tens of millions of dollars [américains]. »
The Challenger 3500 is not entirely a new business jet in the mid-size segment. It’s a Challenger 350 – one of the company’s best-selling aircraft – with a completely redesigned cabin. The assembly will be done in Quebec, just like the finishing.
This investment comes as the business aviation market has continued to gain altitude since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as ultrarich and other wealthy travelers opt for this means of travel.
It is also the first of its kind since Bombardier completed its refocus on business jets following a painful restructuring that resulted in an exit from commercial aviation and rolling stock manufacturing.
The C Series adventure, now controlled by Airbus, has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many taxpayers following the investment of $ 1.3 billion by the Quebec government to rescue the company.
“The label is still stuck, drops Mr. Martel, who recognizes that there is still work to restore the image of Bombardier. That is going to take time. But I think the announcement will help. Quebeckers will tell themselves that they seem to be doing well and that they are investing their money in a new product. ”
The one who has been in control of the aircraft manufacturer since April 2020 has taken care to point out that with the exception of the loan of 252.2 million granted by Ottawa for the development of the Global 7500 in 2017, there is no longer any ‘government money’ in Bombardier. The company nevertheless has its eye on the support programs for the aviation industry that appeared in the last federal budget.
Changes … inside
The green light for the development of the Challenger 3500 was given shortly after the arrival of Mr. Martel. The device can carry up to 10 people and fly from New York to London nonstop. Since the changes only affect the cabin – the same Honeywell engines will continue to power the aircraft – Bombardier’s annual research and development budget, which fluctuates between US $ 200 million and US $ 250 million, has been respected.
The aircraft, with first deliveries scheduled for the second half of 2022, will replace the Challenger 350, announced in 2013. Despite the facelift, the list price will remain around US $ 27 million.
The Challenger 3500 in a few pictures
Inside, the cabin offers several new features, such as a voice-activated system as well as the “Nuage” chair, specially designed for the Global 7500, a larger business jet that has become Bombardier’s flagship and which is sells about 73 million US dollars.
“It’s important that the pilots can have everything they need, but the person who buys the plane is mostly seated in the back,” said Mr. Martel.
The Challenger 3500 will allow Bombardier to offer a facelift to its platform in the midsize jet segment, where competitors like Textron, with its new Cessna Citation Longitude, and Embraer compete.
“We believe that a refreshed platform will allow Bombardier to capitalize on the notoriety of the product to regain market share without compromising its financial results,” said analyst Benoit Poirier, of Desjardins Securities, in a report released before the unveiling.
Even if the unveiling of the Challenger 3500 does not come with new hires, the announcement has been favorably received by workers, rather accustomed to bad news in recent years.
“It feels good to hear good news,” explained business agent Eric Rancourt of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW). It is encouraging for business aviation. The sky turns blue.
Produce more planes?
The strength of the market prompted Bombardier to raise its delivery forecast, which is based on 120 aircraft, from a range of 110 to 120 aircraft previously.
An increase in the production rate becomes possible, according to Mr. Martel. Before making a decision, he wants to ensure a balance between the size of the order book and a timely delivery schedule.
“We’re in the comfort zone that I like and we’ll see if the trend continues,” he said. We are discussing it, but we are not there yet. ”
In the second quarter ended June 30, the ratio of new orders to unit deliveries stood at 1.8 due to the favorable market. The order backlog remained stable at US $ 10.7 billion.
According to WingX, business aviation activity is expected to surpass the volume recorded in 2019, the year when the market finally surpassed the record levels recorded in 2008.
This is the estimate of the fleet of Challenger family aircraft currently in service around the world.