Mike Stones

King Lear reign ends

In October 2020 Bombardier delivered its first Liberty Learjet to auctioneers Alex Lyon & Son. Last week, Bombardier chief executive Eric Martel revealed that the style icon, synonymous with luxury travel for six decades, would cease production at the end of this year. More than 3,000 aircraft have rolled off the assembly lines since production of Bill Lear’s finest creation began in the early 1960s. Modelled on a Swiss fighter aircraft, the first six-passenger Learjet 23, made its maiden flight on October 7th 1963.

Some will find it a sad end to a famous range that commanded phenomenal brand recognition. When Corporate Jet Investor surveyed more than 2,500 Americans in 2018, an impressive 14.9% recognised the Learjet brand compared with 12.5% for Boeing.

But, in truth, the Learjet’s demise comes as no surprise. “You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” as Bob Dylan memorably pointed out. Equally descriptive language was used to describe Learjet’s recent history by Brian Foley, founder, Brian Foley Associates. “The Learjet has been a sunset programme for the past three years, or maybe even four,” he told Corporate Jet Investor.

‘A sunset programme’

Competition has sharpened considerably in this market segment, led by models such as Embraer’s Phenom 300. While annual Learjet deliveries in recent years have failed to top a dozen, deliveries of rival aircraft, such as the Phenom 300, have exceeded 50 (including in 2020).

The cancellation of the Learjet 85 programme in 2015, and the OEM’s well-publicised financial difficulties, were other harbingers of doom for the brand. Halting production of the Learjet will enable Bombardier to focus on the more-profitable Challenger and Global ranges, while accelerating the expansion of its customer services business, said Martel.

Challenger and Global ranges

The OEM had already sold its CRJ regional jet and Dash 8 turboprop programmes, plus an aerostructures operation, as it sought pay down debt. Only last month, Bombardier completed the sale of its rail business to Alstom, allowing it to focus on the manufacture of business jets. Of course, Bombardier has pledged to support and maintain existing Learjets. It will also offer upgrades to avionics and interiors at the Learjet factory in Wichita, after the production line closes for the last time later this year.

Let’s end with the words of another superlative American singer- songwriter Carly Simon, who helped to immortalise the Learjet in the far-off days of 1972. Writing about a nameless former lover (Warren Beatty?), Simon crooned:

“Well, I hear you went up to Saratoga
And your horse naturally won
Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia
To see the total eclipse of the sun.”

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