To its credit, Bombardier elected in early 2004 to deliver the first Challenger 300 to Business Jet Solutions (BJS), the formal name for the manufacturer's Flexjet fractional ownership subsidiary. This move would enable the aircraft to mature rapidly as the fractional operation would fly it in excess of 1,000 hr. per year. Flexjet went on to take delivery of more than two dozen Challenger 300s, and in so doing tested the limits of Montreal's technical and parts support capabilities. This was intentional. Bombardier's product support went through a steep, painful learning curve. Now, it's significantly improved, operators say.

XOJet, a 2006 start-up, thought so highly of the Challenger 300 that it bought 15 reconditioned and new aircraft for use in its high frequency air charter operations. While the firm may fly the aircraft fewer hours, charter operations demand very high dispatch reliability rates. And operators say dispatch reliability is one of the aircraft's key attributes.

About three-quarters of the fleet are based in North America, with U.S. operators accounting for more than two-thirds of all aircraft in service. Canadian operators account for about 5% of the North American fleet, while half that number are based in Mexico.

In the U.S., large corporations such as Exxon Mobil, FedEx, Union Pacific and The Limited, along with Eaton Corp., PNC Financial Group and XTO Energy, operate fleets of the aircraft, according to FAA registration records. In mixed fleets, the Challenger 300 often flies shorter missions formerly flown by heavy-iron jets such as the Challenger 604/605 and Gulfstream IV/450/550, because its operating costs are close to one-half lower. Operators save their large-cabin aircraft for missions longer than 3,000 nm.

FAA records also list McDonald's, Nestlé Purina, Regions Financial and the Richards Group, plus Cargill, Verizon, Raytheon and NCR, along with Abbott Laboratories, Worthington Industries, Koch Industries, MedImpact and Ball Corp. as members of the Challenger 300 club. Close to a dozen or more aircraft are flown by high-net-worth individuals, such as New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and country music star George Strait.

Many individuals and companies said they had outgrown their legacy midsize aircraft because they needed to fly farther, higher and faster on many missions. The Citation X, Sovereign and Dassault Falcon 50EX had the range and speed they needed, but their cabins seemed cramped when loaded with six or more passengers on 5- to 6-hr. trips.

The Gulfstream G200 had a comfortable cabin and transcontinental U.S. range, but its lackluster airport and climb performance, along with the lack of inflight access to the aft baggage compartment, eliminated it as a viable competitor during the purchase selection process for many potential buyers. The strong performing G280 was not yet available when operators decided to step up to the Challenger 300.

Yet, U.S. operators typically fly the aircraft on missions that average 2 hr. or less because of frequent short trips to shuttle employees or company guests from headquarters to outlying facilities. Large firms with mixed fleets typically load the aircraft with six to eight passengers for most flights and in a year's activity log 300 to 500 hr. per aircraft. Smaller firms, especially ones with one or two aircraft, tend to fly fewer hours and fewer passengers.

Close to 20% of the fleet is based in Europe. That's up from 10% in 2007. The largest number is registered in Austria. Six are operated by Vienna-based Amira Air, a charter firm that also flies a Citation CJ2+, a Challenger 605, a Global 5000 and a Global Express. Vienna-based Avcon Jet operates five Challenger 300s among a fleet of more than 30 aircraft. These aircraft can fly nonstop to any city in Europe, the Middle East or northern Africa.

The Isle of Man ranks a close second in European registrations for tax purposes. Germany ranks third, with most others based in Russia, the U.K. and Switzerland.

The aircraft's popularity is growing in Asia. Eight aircraft are registered in China with five being operated by Shenzhen-based Donghai Jet. These aircraft can fly nonstop to all cities in China, plus most destinations in the Far East.

Four aircraft are registered in Turkey, including two aircraft operated by Palmali Group and one each with Halk Financial Leasing and Cukurova Holding in Istanbul. Three are based in India. Brazilian operators fly nine Challenger 300s, but there are few others based in South America.

Most operators climb the aircraft directly to FL 400 or FL 410 on all but the shortest missions. They cruise at Mach 0.80 or faster. The aircraft burns 2,200 to 2,500 pph the first hour and 1,800, 1,700 and 1,600 pph during subsequent hours. They can comfortably fly the aircraft 5 to 6 hr. A 3,000-nm mission takes about 6+40 and that's a stretch unless there is good weather and plenty of suitable alternates near the destination.

An increasing number of operators are flying the aircraft on international trips. They're loading it with life rafts, provisioning the large galley and adding plenty of passenger amenities. This adds as much as 400 to 800 lb. to empty aircraft weight and reduces tanks-full payload to as few as two to three passengers.