Grob closes in on rescue package as Bombardier pulls out Learjet 85

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Bombardier is re-evaluating its entire development and manufacturing strategy for the all-composite Learjet 85 business jet after terminating an agreement with Grob Aerospace, which is immersed in a financial crisis.

Swiss-based Grob had been selected to produce primary and secondary structures and build at least the first three prototypes of the mid-size business jet. After completing certification, the plan called for moving manufacturing to Bombardier's new factory in Queretaro, Mexico.

But this strategy was complicated when Grob's German manufacturing subsidiary filed for interim insolvency last month after the company's main backer withdrew funding. Lingering "uncertainties" about Grob's financial position prompted the Canadian airframer to cancel the deal on 17 September.

 learjet 85
 © Bombardier

The move is a blow for Grob's owners as they try to find new investors for the firm and its flagship product, the yet-to-be-certificated SPn light business jet.

Chief executive Niall Olver says he is in talks with three potential rescuers, one of which is in the aviation business. Talks with one of the parties is at an "advanced stage", he says. A fourth - a consortium of SPn customers - has "not yet reached critical mass to make a bid". He adds: "I can't guarantee we'll find a buyer but I am very confident."

For Bombardier, dropping Grob from the programme was a "risk-based decision", says Michel Merluzeau of Seattle-based aerospace consultancy G2 Solutions: "Grob had way too many uncertainties and risk for them to take a gamble because the Learjet 85 is very important to Bombardier."

Bombardier announced Queretaro's role on the Learjet 85 in May. Work on the all-composite programme would dramatically expand the sophistication of the Mexican plant, which builds fuselage structures for the Challenger 850 and Global Express jets, and wire harnesses and other parts for the Q400 turboprop.

Steve Ridolfi, president of Bombardier business aircraft, says the "decisive action" to re-evaluate the Learjet 85 production system "reflects our strong commitment" to the programme.

The Learjet 85 is set to be manufactured in Queretaro, Mexico