““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Bombardier's Challenger 300
When it comes to power, performance and comfort in a used super-midsize, Bombardier’s Challenger 300 stands alone. Not that there hasn’t been competition.
During the 1990s, business jet manufacturers invented a new product category: the super-midsize. The idea was to provide near large-cabin comfort with midsize operating efficiencies. Over the ensuing years, the manufacturers employed various strategies in pursuit of this market niche: Dassault shortened a trijet Falcon 900 cabin and morphed it into a twinjet called the 2000, but to be fair, that is still really a large-cabin jet, albeit with super-midsize economics. Meanwhile, Cessna extended its popular Citation Excel medium-class fuselage and gave it new wings, avionics and engines, naming the finished product Sovereign, but calling this airplane a super-mid is a bit of, er, a stretch.
Three other companies—Bombardier, Galaxy and Hawker Beechcraft—started with clean-sheet-of-paper designs. The Galaxy (later rebranded the G200 after Gulfstream acquired the program) was beset by a myriad of function and performance problems and production was discontinued in 2011. More than a decade after it was announced, the Hawker 4000 came to market. By then it needed multiple upgrades that its maker could ill-afford. Recently emerged from bankruptcy, the new Beechcraft is walking away from jet production (and warranty support of the Hawker 4000) altogether.
Of this triad, only Bombardier’s Challenger 300 delivered on its promise, combining passenger comfort, performance, reliability and good operating economics.
Bombardier announced the program in 1999 and made its first customer delivery in 2004. Since then, the airplane has become a mainstay of programs from such leading lift providers as Flexjet and Xojet. A fleet of 75 Challenger 300s also will soon begin to join NetJets. Nearly 400 are in service worldwide. The prices of, and demand for, used 300s remain strong—a testament to the model’s popularity.
For the 300, Bombardier used new computer-assisted design and assembled a global supply chain with components from companies in Australia, Canada, Japan, Northern Ireland, Taiwan and the U.S. The parts and pieces come together in 12 major subassemblies on Bombardier’s Montreal shop floor and are assembled into a finished airplane in just four days.
The Honeywell HTF7000 engines (6,826 pounds of thrust each) help make this aircraft fast and efficient. Fully loaded, it easily uses runways under 5,000 feet long, and it climbs at better than 4,200 feet per minute (sometimes a lot better). Yet it can burn as little as 178 gallons of fuel per hour at high-speed cruise settings, or around 470 knots, at altitude. From takeoff the 300 will climb directly to at least 41,000 feet on its way to a maximum cruise altitude of 45,000 feet. With eight passengers, a crew of two and full fuel, a standard-weight 300 has a range of 3,065 nautical miles, according to Bombardier. That potentially enables such nonstop routes as Miami–Seattle, Washington, D.C.–San Francisco, Bangor, Maine–San Diego, New York–London, Geneva–Dubai and Singapore–Tokyo.
The engines on this airplane are so powerful that pilots routinely have to pull the power back to avoid overspeeding. However, they have not been without problems. The original engine combustors are the subject of a recommended-service bulletin and should be replaced with a new design due to cracking and an exhaust gas path that causes premature turbine blade wear. If the engines are under warranty or enrolled in the Honeywell MSP maintenance program, this is not an issue. If they aren’t, though, it could cost aircraft owners $250,000 to $400,000, according to Dave Colbert, director of maintenance for Xojet, which operates 15 Challenger 300s.
Colbert also advises that purchasers of used 300s check for corrosion on the wing panels and thrust reversers. However, he considers these minor annoyances on what is otherwise a great airplane that his company flies an average of 100 hours per month each. “It’s been a top performer for us.”
Colbert particularly likes the brakes. An electronic, brake-by-wire system ensures steady, quick stops while preserving brake life and giving the airplane excellent short-field capability.
While Xojet’s highest-time Challenger has accumulated 6,756 flight hours, Colbert said, “I haven’t replaced a brake on this airplane yet.”
Challenger 300 pilots have the benefit of the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 glass-panel avionics system, which, while somewhat dated, can be upgraded with many of the latest safety and navigational features, including precision GPS-based approaches.
For passengers used to cramming themselves into midsize and smaller jets, the 300’s 860-cubic-foot cabin offers an abundance of space. From cockpit divider to the rear pressure bulkhead, the cabin measures nearly 29 feet long. That includes a 16.5-foot main seating area, lavatory and adjacent walk-in luggage closet with 105 cubic feet of additional space. Cabin height is 6.1 feet and width (from centerline) is 7.2 feet. Typical cabin configurations consist of a galley followed by either two club-four groupings of single executive seats or one club-four grouping followed by a three-place, side-facing divan and two single executive seats. The belted lavatory seat is certified for takeoff and landing.
A fair amount of ambient cabin noise can emanate from the forward entry door in flight. This can be mitigated by closing the acoustic curtain that separates the galley from the main cabin or by installing solid pocket doors to close off the area. In addition, aftermarket noise-dampening insulation is available that can cut cabin noise by up to three decibels. Packages run around $125,000 to $150,000, according to Kevin Kliethermes, director of sales at Chesterfield, Missouri-based JetCorp, an independent provider of Challenger 300 maintenance.
Or you can just turn up the music.
The 300 was the first serial-production business jet to be equipped with the Lufthansa Technik Nice digital cabin-management and entertainment system. Nice uses 24 transducers, mounted behind interior cabin panels, in place of conventional speakers to create near-uniform cabin sound, much like surround sound. Several aftermarket in-flight entertainment packages also are available for retrofit. JetCorp can install the Aircell cabin telecommunications router, connecting it to the Gogo Biz service, which lets passengers use their Wi-Fi-enabled devices to access the Internet and e-mails.
Aside from these few add-ons and routine cabin fabric recovering, used 300s are pretty much good to go.
Bombardier has done much in recent years to improve its once-maligned product support. For example, it has opened a company service center in Singapore; expanded hours and overnight shifts at several other locations; and introduced a reliability-improvement program tailored to the Challenger 300. That program, which the company calls “Max,” offers customers little- or no-charge upgrades of improved aircraft components and covers associated labor costs. “We share with customers what is the latest and greatest coming off the assembly line,” said Andy Nureddin, vice president of customer service and support for Bombardier Business Aircraft. Over the last 18 months, Bombardier has installed 1,200 new parts fleet-wide, including items such as generator control units and variable steering transducers. The improved parts have better performance and life limits. Twenty-one parts are currently on the list and Bombardier is adding to it continually. The program has been a hit with customers.
“What I appreciate most is Bombardier’s willingness to stand behind this product with their own money,” said Colbert, who sits on the Challenger 300 customer advisory board.
When Bombardier launched the Challenger 300, its goal was to capture 30 percent of the super-midsize market by 2012. It has done that—and then some. New-aircraft competition does loom on the horizon in the form of the newly certified Gulfstream G280 and under-development models, including the Embraer Legacy 500 and Cessna Citation Longitude. But when it comes to used super-midsize jets, the Challenger 300 is the champ.
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