It began as a maker of cast-off airplanes and at one point was near collapse, but Bombardier Aerospace is demonstrating enviable resilience during the market downturn, thanks in large measure to its top end business jets, while investing billions in new models.

The Montreal-based OEM plans to deliver 240 business and commercial aircraft this year. While that figure represents a notable decline from the 400 it produced just a few years ago, current output, together with its maintenance and training services, will deliver revenues approaching $9 billion. And as of July 31, its backlog was $23 billion, a 20% increase from six months earlier.

Guy Hachey, president and COO, says business aviation is his group's largest business, and it's growing.

Steve Ridolfi, president of Bombardier Business Aircraft, claims a 50% share of the market's orders in units and dollars.

Key contributors to that status are Bombardier's Challenger and Global families, which accounted for 50 deliveries in the first half of the year, versus 19 Learjets. Regardless, Bombardier has significant programs in both large- and small-cabin categories.

In early 2008, the company began developing the $18 million Learjet 85. The largest in that series with a 665 cu. ft., stand-up cabin, and Bombardier's first all-composite aircraft. The company has constructed an 185,000 sq. ft. facility at its Queretaro, Mexico, site dedicated to Learjet 85 fabrication, including wing build-up with planks and spars shipped from its plant in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Final assembly, interior work, painting and delivery will occur at the Learjet facility in Wichita, Kan., which the company is expanding considerably to accommodate the new aircraft. A total of 1,700 employees are assigned to the project.

First flight is to take place next year, with certification and initial deliveries set for 2013 and going to Bombardier's Flexjet profitable fractional aircraft operation, whose 85-aircraft fleet includes Learjets and Challengers. The manufacturer claims some 60 orders in hand, a backlog that Ralph Acs, Learjet vice president and general manager, says puts the next open delivery slot in 2016.

The second major business aircraft program, unveiled a year ago in the dark depths of recession, is the Global 7000/ 8000, set to begin service in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The two $65 million aircraft will have the same cabin cross section of the current Globals, but the 7000 will incorporate an 11.3-ft. fuselage stretch over the 6000, providing room for four seating zones, while the 8000 is to be stretched just 2.2 ft., have three seating zones, but carry enough additional fuel to fly 7,900 nm.

Both aircraft will have the same, clean-sheet wing, GE's next generation Passport turbofans, fly-by-wire controllers, and Global Vision flight deck based on Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics.

NetJets has ordered 50 Globals, including 20 Global 7000 and 8000s, with deliveries to begin in 2017. The contract includes 70 options, opening the door for more Global 7000 and 8000s. As with other Globals, these will be built in Toronto.

A third aircraft program now underway is the CSeries airliner, which Hachey says could deliver $5 billion to $8 billion in annual sales by the end of the decade.

However, the 110- to 149-seat jet has been slow in attracting large fleet buys — the company reported 133 firm orders and 119 options as of July 31 — and is scheduled to enter service in late 2013. Boeing and Airbus believe their re-engined 737 and A320, respectively, will prove more attractive, plus Russia, Japan and China are developing aircraft for that market as well.

“Today we are sort of a big irritant or a small irritant to the duopoly,” says Hachey, adding, “We've got a few fronts that are open here, that we're dealing with all at once.”

Bombardier's annual investment in aerospace — which Hachey says is in excess of $1 billion — goes beyond new aircraft to include upgrades, simulators, parts, service support and new facilities.

As one example, the company spent years and more than 600 hr. of flight testing developing and certifying its new Global Vision cockpit, which Stephane Leblanc, Global vice president and general manager, says will become standard in new production Global 5000 and 6000 aircraft entering into service beginning early next year. Meanwhile, the Global Completion Center in Montreal is being expanded for increased production.

With the active Bombardier fleet spreading geographically, the division's service arm is working to keep pace. There are eight company-owned service centers in North America, two of which are devoted to commercial aircraft exclusively, and two years ago it opened its first wholly owned European center at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. Also serving European operators is LBAS, a joint venture with Lufthansa, at Berlin-Schonefeld Airport. More service outlets are coming.

According to Eric Martel, president, Bombardier Customer Services and Specialized and Amphibious Aircraft, five years ago the company had 20 company-owned or authorized service facilities; today it has some 70 worldwide. Its network of parts depots now includes Beijing, Singapore and São Paulo. And Martel says, “We clearly have plans for South America to grow our presence there.” Indeed, the company recently announced it will open a regional support office, its seventh, in São Paulo by year-end.

Going forward, the company wants to establish a comprehensive heavy maintenance service program for operators, similar to the “power-by-the-hour” programs offered by various engine manufacturers.

Bombardier's entry into the aerospace is relatively recent, beginning when the Ski-Doo and Sea-Doo maker acquired Canadair and its Challenger program from the Canadian government in 1986. Within the next six years it added Short Brothers, Learjet and de Havilland.

Despite the challenge of combining so quickly so many disparate products, business cultures and customers, the conglomeration worked, with it even pioneering the regional jet.

However, a recession in the early 2000s com- bined with overexposure of the company's financial services unit put the corporation in dire straits, forcing it to divest its prized recreational products business. During that period of fiscal constraint, rival Embraer developed its E-Jets, which took much of the larger RJ market.

Bombardier learned from that experience, which, Hachey acknowledges, is part of the reason it has been investing heavily throughout the current down cycle.

He has similarly championed an overhaul of processes throughout the entire aerospace organization, focusing on lean manufacturing, finely measured outputs, and a customer-first mindset. Evidence of his “Achieving Excellence System” is everywhere, from the stark white assembly floors, to a plethora of “visibility boards” that highlight key process concerns, to work station bins filled overnight with the tools and parts needed for the next day. Quality and efficiency have improved as a result, most agree.

Observes Martel, “Long term there's no doubt [aviation] is going to come back. And when it does, we're in good shape.” BCA