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EBACE: Bombardier's Nuage seat spells new age for long-range interiors

A Global 7000 does not look out of place on the lawn of the Beverly Hills Hilton at the Milken Institute’s annual global conference, a $50,000-a-ticket venue for the world’s rich and powerful. It is the kind of event where you see US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin chatting up a group of seated bankers at the coffee bar in the lobby.

So Bombardier brought the 33.9m (111ft)-long cabin mock-up of its $75 million business jet to the 2016 conference, allowing a host of potential future customers an up-close look at the aircraft long before its scheduled entry into service later this year.

Last year, a mock-up of the smaller Challenger 350 adorned the conference’s entrance. This year, with the Global 7000’s first delivery drawing nearer, Bombardier returned to the Hilton. But instead of bringing a mock-up of its new flagship, Bombardier chose to showcase its latest entry in a product category that is becoming a major marketing focus across the business jet industry. As Brad Nolen, Bombardier’s vice-president of marketing, puts it: “You’ll find that we’ll have more real owners today at Milken than even at NBAA or EBACE, so it’s the perfect place to launch a new aircraft seat.”

The new seat unveiled on the sidelines of the conference on 29 April is branded Nuage, the French word for cloud. As a marketing term, it sounds as if Bombardier is entering the remote data storage business, but in this case it is a reference to the floating, visible mass of tiny liquid droplets – and the intent is to evoke the cloud’s airy weightlessness.

“We’re really pleased with the result. The comfort we’ll be able to deliver to our customers is amazing,” says Tim Fagan, manager of industrial design for Bombardier Business Aircraft.

Some customers, such as former Formula One driver Niki Lauda, have been waiting for that experience for a long time. Bombardier launched the Global 7000 at the NBAA convention in Atlanta in 2010. Entry into service was originally scheduled for 2016, but that was before the company’s CSeries programme fell more than two years behind schedule. In 2015, it announced that the new model would enter service in 2018.

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Three years after that announcement, Bombardier has logged 1,800 flight hours on four test aircraft since achieving first flight in November 2016. The programme remains on track to obtain airworthiness certification later this year, with the first production aircraft delivered to a production customer before 2019 begins.

“The certification is progressing extremely well. We’re really entering the final phase before final [certification],” says chief executive Alain Bellemare, speaking to analysts on a first-quarter earnings call on 3 May.

As the flagship of Bombardier Business Aircraft, the Global 7000 has played a significant role in the company’s corporate strategy since it was unveiled eight years ago. But the programme assumed a new importance for the Canadian manufacturer last October, when Airbus and Bombardier announced a plan to create a joint company with the Quebec government on the CSeries programme. When the deal closes, Airbus will become the majority shareholder in the CSeries programme.

As Bombardier becomes a minority shareholder in the CSeries, the Global 7000 will become the largest aircraft under the company’s control. It strikes a similar profile on the flight line, with a fuselage length only 1m shorter than the CSeries family’s CS100 variant and a 3.4m narrower wingspan.

The Global 7000 also shares the CS100’s Rockwell Collins ProLine Fusion cockpit and fly-by-wire flight control architecture. The two differ in power, with Pratt & Whitney PW1500G geared turbofan engines on the CSeries family and a pair of aft-mounted GE Aviation Passports for the Global 7000.

With no new aircraft development programmes in the pipeline, the Global 7000 becomes an even more critical piece of Bombardier’s future. But company executives have played down expectations for the production ramp-up.

The combined family of the smaller Global 5000 and 6000 jets exceeded 80 aircraft deliveries a year until 2016, but have since declined to about 50. The Global 7000 is not expected to approach even the smaller number as Bombardier hits full-rate production in two or three years.

Between 2020 and 2021, “you’ll see the mature level of production, and we think it’s going to be something that will contribute up to $3 billion of revenue to the top line at BBA”, Bellemare says. “So if you do some quick math, that will give you about 40 aircraft [deliveries] or so when we’re pumping out normal production. We’ll go with market demand. If there’s more, we’ll take it from that point.”

The Global 7000 is scheduled to enter the market as signs point to a rebound in demand for ultra-long-range, large-cabin jets. Bombardier’s fiercest rival, Gulfstream, has reported that sales of the G650 and G650ER rose dramatically in the fourth quarter of 2017 and have not abated so far this year. The G650ER’s range is 200nm (370km) shy of the Global 7000’s 7,700nm. It is now possible to fly from Hong Kong to New York in a Bombardier jet without a refuelling stop.

That emphasis on extreme endurance has been driving manufacturers to focus more closely on ride quality and interior design. Last November, Bombardier’s marketing campaign at the NBAA convention concentrated on the aircraft’s flexing wings. Visitors to the flight-test aircraft on the static display were invited to stand beneath the wing and push it as their strength would allow. The point, according to Bombardier, is that such flexibility in wings dampens the vertical gusts that make flying through turbulence so uncomfortable.

Six months later, Bombardier’s message to future customers attending the Milken Institute conference focused on the qualities of the aircraft’s newly branded seat.

“It’s becoming more and more important as time goes on. The whole experience of flying in a business jet is evolving,” Nolen says. “As you have more and more competitors entering the field and airplanes are flying further and further and you have more choices, people are moving away from range and speed and more to things like the level of noise in the aircraft. The ride quality, in particular. Is it a bumpy airplane or a smooth airplane? More and more, you’re getting into the area of seat comfort over the last 10 years, progressively toward: ‘Yes, I’m going to look at the seat and I’m going to make a decision on the seat’.”

It is an emphasis that challenges how performance is defined. Typical marketing data for business jets focuses on objective criteria, such as the range and speed of comparable aircraft, or advanced features, including the avionics and engines. As the focus turns more towards the cabin environment, the industry must develop a new lexicon for making objective comparisons between different products.

“I wouldn’t say it’s terribly analytic” at the moment, Nolen says. “But if you look at the way the seat is manipulated and moving and the geometry, the geometry… is fundamentally different than a Gulfstream seat. Anyone who sits in this seat is going to tell us that rapidly.”

Bombardier designed the Nuage with three main elements: a tilt-link system that enables full recline with a comfortable dip at the hips, a headrest that tilts forward in recline to cradle the head and neck and a new swivel mechanism with an axis of rotation that always remains below the passenger’s centre of gravity.

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