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Bombardier expects Learjet 75 to ‘make a splash’ at NBAA show

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, at 11:55 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, at 6:03 a.m.

Bombardier Aerospace will highlight its Wichita-built Learjet 75 aircraft at this year’s National Business Aviation Association’s annual convention in Orlando, Fla.

It’s bringing a Learjet 75 mock-up and test aircraft to the show as part of its lineup of products, the company said.

The aircraft is a significant upgrade to its Learjet 45.

“We know this jet will make a splash at this year’s show,” Bombardier Business Aircraft president Steve Ridolfi said in a statement.

The company is also bringing the mock-up of its new Learjet 85, a Learjet 45XR and a Learjet 60XR, built in Wichita, and the Global 6000, Challenger 605 and Challenger 300.

The NBAA convention will open as a Machinists union strike at the Learjet factory enters its fourth week.

Union members rejected the company’s proposal of a new labor contract and voted to walk off the job. The strike began Oct. 8. The union represents about 825 of the plant’s 3,000 employees.

There are no plans yet to return to the bargaining table.

The work stoppage hasn’t changed the company’s plan for the show, said Learjet spokeswoman Peggy Gross.

“I’m sure there will be customers that have concerns,” Gross said. But the company has been in communication with them before the strike and after it began.

“We plan to meet their needs,” Gross said.

Learjet officials say they don’t expect customers to cancel any orders as a result of the work stoppage.

“This strike won’t last forever,” Gross said, although “it seems like a long time for us, and I’m sure for the strikers.”

Bombardier is hosting a media event on Sunday in which fractional ownership provider NetJets will take delivery of a Global 6000.

And it’s holding a news conference on Tuesday to make a customer service announcement.

The new, clean-sheet Learjet 85 development is going well, company officials say.

And the Learjet 70 and 75 is “tracking well,” they say.

The planes will undergo final assembly in Wichita.

“We’re feeling good about what’s going on,” Bombardier Learjet vice president and general manager Ralph Acs said of the projects in a media tour of the factory in mid-September.

The company is making a major investment at its Wichita site to take on the work.

“If it’s a Learjet, we want it to be here,” Acs said.

The growth of the Learjet 85 has brought a lot of capabilities to Wichita, including an engineering center of excellence where engineers are involved in other Bombardier projects besides the Learjet line.

At the same time, the market remains difficult, he said.

“It’s a market that has struggled for a period of time,” Acs said, with a lot of pricing pressure.

But the tough conditions provide an opportunity to review and improve processes. For example, the company has shifted some first-shift employees to second shift to balance operations and has become more efficient in manufacturing processes, such as changing the timing of when some work gets done on an airplane into a more logical sequence.

Those improvements are paying off; they’re expected to shrink the time it takes to build a Learjet by more than 40 percent and reduce inventory by 25 percent to 30 percent.

That saves money, officials said.

The downturn is also a good time to develop products.

When you come out of the down market, there are fresh, new products available, Acs said. “I think there’s an opportunity between the 75 and the 85,” Acs said.

“The notion all along was you can come up with a new platform (the Learjet 85) and spin that into other things,” he said.

“So a Learjet 80?” asked a visitor.

“It could be 81; it could be 90,” Acs said, laughing.

The first production Learjet 75 is expected to fly early next year.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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