Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

Bombardier Aerospace faces key product development decisions over the next two years as several projects compete for its engineering and financial resources. Since 1991, the Canadian company has set itself the ambitious goal of introducing one new aircraft every year. "We are still on that path," says president Robert Brown.

Although new products have been the driver behind Bombardier's rapid growth, some of its programmes are still several years away from providing significant returns. The company finds itself, therefore, working to sustain the engineering and flight test capability it has built up while trying to contain the demands on its financial resources.

At the same time, the leading presence Bombardier has established in the business and regional aircraft markets threatens to generate near-simultaneous requirements for new products in both sectors, making the management of its engineering and financial resources even more challenging.

Since 1991, Bombardier has certificated seven new or derivative aircraft - the latest being the Learjet 45 "superlight" business jet, deliveries of which began in June. A further three aircraft are in development:

Global Express - certification of the ultra-long-range business jet is imminent, with deliveries of completed aircraft to begin by year-end; Dash 8-400 - certification of the 70-seat regional turboprop is scheduled for March next year, with deliveries beginning by mid-1999; CRJ-700 - certification of the stretched, 70-seat derivative of the Canadair Regional Jet is scheduled for late 2000, with deliveries beginning early in 2001.

Bombardier almost doubled its sales over the past five years, with 70% of its growth coming from new products, and Brown expects to double sales again in the next four to five years "-without new products or acquisitions".

The company will take a big step towards that goal this financial year with first deliveries of the Learjet 45 and Global Express and record production rates on the 50-seat CRJ and the Challenger 604 business jet. "There will be double-digit aircraft delivery growth this year," says Brown.

The Canadian manufacturer continues to look ahead, however, and is considering new products for delivery beginning early in the new century, including:

New Midsize Business Jet (NMBJ) - Bombardier hopes to launch development of a replacement for the Learjet 60 by year end, leading to certification and first deliveries early in 2002; "Challenger 605" - depending on where the NMBJ fits into its product range, the company may stretch the current Challenger 604 or develop a new large business jet; "Dash 8-500" - Bombardier is looking at what technologies from the Dash 8-400 could be used to update the 37-seat -200 and 50-seat -300; 90-seater - the company recognises the eventual requirement for a regional jet larger than 70 seats, but is unsure when, or how, to proceed; CL-415 - a decision on whether to produce a second batch of amphibious waterbombers and what, if any, improvements to incorporate, is anticipated by year end.

Bombardier, at least for the moment, appears to have ruled out new product developments in two market segments: the 30-seat regional jet and the entry-level business jet. The company has looked at the 35/37-seat regional jet market, Brown reveals, but decided that a new aircraft would be required "...which would make it very difficult to make money for ourselves or our customers".

Similarly John Lawson, president, sales, with Bombardier's Business Aircraft division, says replacing the entry-level Learjet 31A with a new aircraft "-has no great appeal. We would come in [to the market] late, with little scope for profit." The company would like to develop a derivative of its Learjet 45 some time in the future, but what, and when, depends on its plans for a new midsize business jet.


Company officials are tight-lipped about the NMBJ, known inside Bombardier as the BD100. Lawson says only that the aircraft will be "-competitively positioned in cabin and price" against other so-called "super midsize" business jets, particularly the new Raytheon Hawker Horizon. Industry sources say Bombardier has set a target price of $12 million for a transcontinental-range - 5,500km (3,000nm) business jet with a cabin cross-section close to that of the $14.6 million, 6,100km-range Horizon.

The target price, plus Bombardier's need to contain its product-development expenses, explains why the company is looking to risk-sharing partners to supply most of the new aircraft. Industry sources say the NMBJ is to be assembled at Learjet, a decision president Mac Beatson confirms indirectly when he says the company is ending Space Shuttle work for Lockheed Martin "-because we need the room to assemble larger aircraft".

Two engines have been considered to power the NMBJ, the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW308 already under development for the Hawker Horizon and AlliedSignal's yet-to-be-launched AS900. Sources say one has been selected as the baseline powerplant for the aircraft, but neither manufacturer will comment.

The search for risk-sharing partners is well under way and local reports say Taiwan's Aerospace Industrial Development plans to raise some $130 million to take a 10% stake in the programme, possibly building fuselage sections for the aircraft. Existing risk-sharing partner Mitsubishi Heavy Industries may be a candidate to produce the wing, but sources suggest the Japanese company could be too heavily committed supplying the Dash 8-400 fuselage and empennage and CRJ-700 aft fuselage to participate. Another possibility is that Canada's Avcorp, which is supplying the CRJ-700's empennage as risk-sharing partner, may seek a larger role on the NMBJ.

With its role on the NMBJ restricted to integration, assembly and testing, Bombardier will have the engineering resources available to pursue other projects. One could be a "Challenger 605". Lawson admits that the NMBJ could eat into the lower end of the Challenger market and, as a result, the 604 could be "moved upscale slightly". Options looked at include stretching the cabin and uprating the engines, he says, although studies are "very preliminary".

Brown says Bombardier is trying to maintain a balance between the market segments it serves. In its 1997-8 financial year, regional aircraft accounted for 38% of sales and business aircraft 35%. In the regional aircraft segment, the focus is on certificating first the Dash 8-400, then the CRJ-700.

Steve Ridolfi, vice-president, marketing and aircraft programmes with the Regional Aircraft division, anticipates that, within a year, a decision will be made on which features of the Dash 8-400 will be incorporated into improved versions of the current -200 and -300. These could include the -400's integrated avionics and flat-panel displays.

While Ridolfi believes any need for regional jets larger than 70 seats "is a long way away", the company continues to watch the market. Insiders say the issue is whether to develop a 90-seater and risk it becoming an "orphan product" or develop a 95/115-seat family and risk competing directly with Airbus and Boeing.

Source: Flight International