Bombardier has delivered the first Challenger 300 super mid-size business jet to its Flexjet fractional-ownership subsidiary. The first four production aircraft are destined for Flexjet, with the first Challenger 300 for a traditional corporate customer scheduled to be handed over in March.

Putting the all-new Challenger 300 into the fractional fleet first is part of Bombardier's plan to ensure a smooth entry into service. Flexjet will fly its aircraft for an average 1,200h a year, leading the fleet with twice the typical annual utilisation of a corporate flight department. Bombardier's 125-aircraft orderbook includes 25 for Flexjet.

Five flight-test aircraft had logged more than 3,080h by mid-December, including an extended function and reliability test programme of close to 600h, intended to work out any bugs in the aircraft and its interior. The first test aircraft was retired in December after being used in a five-week maintenance procedures test programme designed to improve in-service support.

In contrast to previous Bombardier programmes, the flight-test aircraft were followed by a low-rate initial production batch of six aircraft to validate final assembly. Beginning with aircraft 12, the company began a rapid ramp-up in production to ensure customer deliveries. The assembly line at Wichita, Kansas was at a 10-day move rate, or two aircraft a month, in December, with acceleration to an eight-day move planned for the first quarter.

Starting this month, final assembly will be shared between Wichita and Montreal as part of Bombardier's plan to transfer production of the Challenger 300 to its Canadian plant by the end of 2004 or early 2005. Completion of the aircraft is scheduled to transfer from Tucson, Arizona to Montreal by the first quarter of 2005. Tucson will then become Bombardier's West Coast service centre, complementing West Virginia Air Center on the East Coast.

Bombardier says the $17.4 million Challenger 300 meets or exceeds its original design guarantees, with a Mach 0.83 maximum cruise speed, 5,700km (3,100nm) range at M0.8; and a 1,510m (4,950ft) take-off field length at maximum weight. The programme changes to smooth service entry pushed certification back eight months to June last year and delayed first deliveries from mid-2003.

Despite the programme restructuring, the Challenger 300 was still certificated in less than four years from its formal launch in June 1999 as the Bombardier Continental, which the manufacturer believes is the shortest development time for any all-new business jet.

Source: Flight International