October 18, 2013

First Lear 75 owner takes tour of new plane

Louis Beck saw his first Learjet as a young man nearly 50 years ago and knew he wanted to own one someday.

Correction: A headline on an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Beck took delivery of the plane.

Louis Beck saw his first Learjet as a young man nearly 50 years ago and knew he wanted to own one someday.

Since then, Beck, a pilot and businessman, has owned seven Learjets. He bought his first, a 1968 model, in 1985.

On Thursday, Beck got a close-up look his next Learjet – the new Learjet 75 – in the delivery hangar at Bombardier’s Learjet plant in west Wichita.

Beck is Bombardier’s first customer for the airplane, an upgraded version of the Learjet 45.

“When my friends at Learjet asked me to be the launch customer for the Lear 75, there was no hesitation on my part,” Beck told a group of employees, suppliers and others gathered inside the hangar.

He is sold on the performance characteristics of the business jet as well as “the unmistakable sex appeal that is only Learjet,” Beck told them.

His company, Speedbird, will take delivery of the plane.

Beck, based in Boca Raton, Fla., heads other companies in the financial services, real estate and hotel sectors.

He uses a business jet to travel among company offices and check on investments from Cincinnati to California, he said.

Beck’s visit to Wichita is a milestone, said Ralph Acs, Bombardier Learjet vice president and general manager. It begins the delivery process of the airplane to Beck.

“She’s a beautiful ship,” said Steve Ridolfi, president of Bombardier Business Aircraft.

Bombardier announced the Learjet 70 and 75, upgraded replacements to the Learjet 40 and 45, in May 2012.

The jets have improved avionics, engines and a new winglet design and will offer greater range, more speed, new interior styling, improved fuel efficiency and lower operating costs, the company said.

Beck’s Learjet 75 must complete the certification process with the Federal Aviation Administration before delivery.

“Now that the FAA is back, we can complete the certification process,” Acs said.

He’s pleased that the government shutdown is over because during the 16-day partial shutdown, FAA certification activities came to a halt, Acs said.

“We did what we could,” Acs said. “But at the end of the day, we have to do everything through the authorities.”

Rifolfi and Acs will join other Bombardier officials in Las Vegas next week for the world’s largest business jet show sponsored by the National Business Aviation Association.

The show is expected to draw 25,000 attendees and 1,100 exhibitors.

Bombardier has made significant investments in new products such as the Learjet 70, 75 and the new Learjet 85, a clean sheet composite airplane.

Those products “revolutionize the face of Learjet,” Ridolfi said.

While planemakers are enthusiastic about their new products, they are less so about the market for business jets.

“I don’t think we’re over all the effects of the last few years,” Ridolfi said. “I don’t think we can say we’re out of the woods yet, but we like our position. ... We feel very good about where the markets are going.”

The small and mid-size business jet markets have been more challenged than the markets for bigger jets, he said.

Still, the company has gained orders from large fractional ownership companies, he said, and it has held on to market share.

“It’s been more difficult for some of our competitors,” Ridolfi said. “Some have struggled.”

Bombardier also has gained business from former customers of Hawker Beechcraft.

“We’ve seen a lot of customers migrate our way, which is good news,” he said.

Long term, the company will continue to invest in new products.

“We like business aviation,” Ridolfi said. “We think this is a space with a lot of runway ahead of it.”

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.

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