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A little merriment at aviation convention
October 17, 2011
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    October 13, 2011

    Surprisingly, it wasn’t all gloom and doom at the 64th annual National Business Aviation Association showpiece convention here – setting aside the well-orchestrated chorus of “outrage” against Washington’s modest plans on user fees and depreciation advantages.

    Embraer Executive Jets of Brazil sold 14 planes in 24 hours, president Ernest Edwards said in an interview, including a Legacy 650 to its new brand ambassador, actor Jackie Chan.

    Hawker Beechcraft chairman Bill Boisture Jr., who shocked even colleagues with his verbal attacks on U.S. President Barack Obama for allegedly “killing U.S. jobs” by asking the industry to pay a $100-perflight user fee, beamed as he boasted to assembled guests that “we have closed 1 million square feet of space (in the U.S.). And we moved 20,000 detailed parts from our supply chain (in the U.S. to offshore third parties), and opened our brand new facility in Chihuahua (Mexico), which will be a major part of our future success.”

    The company also opened a large aircraft paint shop in Monterey, Mexico.

    Aviation’s weak sister, Cessna Aircraft Co., introduced a new plane, the $14.9-million Latitude, which will battle against Bombardier Inc.’s Learjet line.

    Jean Rosanvallon, president and CEO of France’s Dassault Falcon Jet – or John, as his company calls him at events in the U.S. – said he expects to sell 65 Falcons this year, “a pretty nice number in the current economic environment.”

    Larry Flynn, the new president of Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., a fierce competitor to Montreal’s Bombardier mostly in the top end of business aviation, boasted about creating 1,000 new jobs at the firm’s Savannah, Ga., operations.

    And flight tests are nearly completed, said Flynn, on the G280 program – renamed from its previous G250 appellation because it appears that the number 250 can be translated to mean “idiotic” in mandarin Chinese, Flight-Global reported last July, an indication of where the company will concentrate its marketing efforts.

    Ralph Acs, vice-president and GM of Bombardier Business Aircraft’s Learjet division, reported that the Learjet 85 has “great momentum,” that major assembly has begun, and that the plane that incorporates carbon-fibre technology in a host of components is on track to meet its 2013 entry into service.

    Learjet engineers in Wichita, Kan., are breaking everything in sight, he said, but he’s not calling the cops.

    “You’ve got to make sure you exercise (aircraft) systems and parts. Make sure you break them because that’s how you learn – and not just once.

    “If you don’t break it, I don’t want to see it.”

    Not that the industry is about to soar again like it did in the years leading up to the 2008 peak – and crash.

    In fact, all of the six major makers are feeling the pinch in orders, and R&D costs.

    Boisture had to reassure questioners that, yes, Moody’s did indeed downgrade Hawker Beechcraft’s credit rating last month, but that it was based on secondquarter results, not since-improved numbers.

    “We are in good standing with our suppliers, customers and our own people. Everyone’s getting paid and we have strong (private equity) ownership.”

    For Bombardier in particular, life will not be getting easier.

    In addition to corporate versions of its regional jets, Embraer has entry-level jets, the Phenom 100 and 300, the only segment Bombardier is not in and which Bombardier’s Steve Ridolfi again reiterated Tuesday he’s not interested in (“This is not what we’re about,” said the president of Bombardier Business Aircraft to analysts and reporters, suggesting they are not profitable enough and project the wrong image).

    But the Brazilian firm is steadily developing corporate jets that will go up against the range of corporate jets made by Bombardier, the world’s largest manufacturer of such aircraft.

    The Legacy 450 and Legacy 500 are slated to enter service in 2013, and compete with the Learjet 60 and Learjet 85, respectively, Edwards said.

    Analysts, though, say that Bombardier has the advantage of having built the top-flight and cash-machine Global line for nearly 20 years, a segment that will not be easy to crack. Especially since the Montreal firm again upped the ante at last year’s NBAA by launching its Global 7000 and 8000 models for 2016 and 2017, the largest cabin planes in the business with the longest range.

    The stakes are high – not only for Bombardier, but for Montreal’s economy, as aerospace is one of the main engines driving the city’s – and Quebec’s – economy.

    Bombardier does not break down the number of its employees who work in business aircraft because many of them produce parts and work on other planes as well.

    There are more than 15,000 Bombardier employees in Quebec, and at least as many more in the supply chain.

    Date: 2011-10-13