The Learjet brand has stepped into the sunset, with the famed business jet manufacturer delivering its final aircraft on 28 March.
The Wichita airframer, a division of Bombardier, delivered the last jet – an eight-passenger Learjet 75 – to US customer Northern Jet Management, bringing some 60 years of production to a close.
During those decades, Learjet produced more than 3,000 aircraft, of which more than 2,000 remain in service, Bombardier says.
The move follows Bombardier’s decision, disclosed in February 2021, to shutter Learjet and focus all its attention on producing larger, more-profitable business jets.
Launched by innovator Bill Lear in the early 1960s, Learjet quickly became a cultural icon – a symbol of luxury associated with customers like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.
Learjet’s first model – the six-passenger Learjet 23 – took to the skies on its maiden flight on 7 October 1963. The airframer went on to produce six- and eight-passenger models like Learjet 24s, 25s, 31s and 35s.
Change came in 1990 with Learjet’s acquisition by Bombardier, which backed the airframer’s development of types like Learjet 40s, 45s, 60s, and, more recently, the 70/75 pairing, which entered service last decade.
But the company fumbled last decade with its Learjet 85, a composite-skinned aircraft that was to propel Learjet into the era of advanced materials. Amid delays and production problems, Bombardier cancelled the 85 programme in 2015.
The brand seemed to stall since then, with only the 75 remaining in production and seemingly little innovation other than the 2019 launch of the Learjet 75 Liberty, a discounted variant of the baseline 75.
Meanwhile, Bombardier was busy pulling itself from a financial hole created by development of its CSeries commercial aircraft. That programme proved so expensive that Bombardier eventually washed its hands of the effort, handing majority ownership of CSeries (now called the A220) to Airbus.
That was only the beginning. Bombardier then set out on a plan to become a business-jet-only company. Not only that, but it would only sell medium-cabin Challengers and its line of large-cabin, ultra-long-range Globals.
To get there, Bombardier sold its Dash 8 turboprop programme in 2019 and its CRJ regional jet programme in 2020. It divested aerostructures businesses in 2020, and sold off its train business in 2021.
In 2021, Bombardier chief executive Eric Martel told FlightGlobal that Challengers and Globals generated 90% of Bombardier’s business jet revenue. He described Learjet as sitting in a “more-competitive, more-crowded market” than Bombardier’s other types.
“When I have $1 to invest, where do I put that dollar? Today, it’s pretty clear… It’s either on the Global, either on the Challenger, or in the service business,” he said.
Though Learjet production has ceased, Bombardier has big plans for Wichita. It intends to make the site a Learjet “Centre of Excellence” – an aftermarket hub specialising in servicing the 2,000 Learjets still flying, Bombardier vice-president of OEM parts and services Chris Debergh said in 2021.
Bombardier would transition its Learjet production hangars into service bays and expand Wichita’s aftermarket capabilities. The space would also give the company better ability to service Challengers and Globals, he said.