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Farnborough: Bombardier considers VLJ sector to cultivate entry-level business jet customer base

By Andrew Doyle at Farnborough air show

Manufacturer watches sector carefully as it publishes corporate aircraft forecast

Bombardier is closely studying very light jet (VLJ) programmes such as the Eclipse 500 and could consider entering the market itself if it proves an effective tool for cultivating an entry-level customer base.

Technology being pioneered in the VLJ sector, such as friction-stir welding and advanced avionics, could be applied in larger business jets, says Bombardier vice-president business aircraft, James Hoblyn.

"We're watching it carefully," he says. "If there is a large market that brings a lot of customers in, we should look at it. There's a lot of new technology being introduced that may be applicable to our end of the market," Hoblyn adds.

Noting that VLJ manufacturers including Eclipse hold advance orders for thousands of VLJs, Hoblyn says that "that's a customer base we should be talking to".

Bombardier, like other manufacturers, relies heavily on customers trading up to larger, more expensive models in its product line, which ranges from the Learjet 40 light jet to the Global large-jet family.

"Based on an installed customer base, you can know with a fair degree of accuracy what these people are going to do," says Hoblyn. "You know that based on history. We see that in fractional ownership and the whole-aircraft market," he adds.

Rival Embraer has already entered the VLJ market with its Phenom family.

The Canadian manufacturer, meanwhile, broke with tradition at the show and for the first time published its corporate aircraft market forecast. It predicts total business jet deliveries will average 600-700 annually between 2006 and 2010, compared with 540 during 2001-05. However, Bombardier believes the VLJ sector will account for just $2.58 billion of the total $73.8 billion revenue that will be generated by the corporate sector over the five years to 2010, with the lion's share to be accounted for by large, super-large and ultra-long-range models.

■ Bombardier has clinched its largest European order for the Challenger 605 business jet from Swiss charter operator and broker VistaJet. The deal for three Challenger 605s, plus an option for two more of the large-cabin aircraft, comes on top of a separate deal for one ultra-long-range Global XRS and two Challenger 604 business jets. VistaJet is to take delivery of the aircraft in the fourth quarter of next year, following certification and service entry of the aircraft.

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