Bombardier's Challenger 300

Business Jet Traveler » April 2013
(Photo: Bombardier Aerospace)
Monday, March 18, 2013 - 1:15pm

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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Comments

No Avatar
Jeffrey A. Carrithers
on April 16, 2013 - 11:55am

Of almost all the new aged aircraft (2000 or newer) the Challenger 300 has been one of the top performers on our web site month after month. Both in availability of aircraft offered and the amount of interest offered by inquiries. This all around mid-size seems to be a crowd favorite in regards to speed, comfort and reliability.

No Avatar
LouE
on April 16, 2013 - 4:27pm

I love this jet ease of maint. in regards to Interiors.

No Avatar
Fabian
on April 18, 2013 - 8:20am

I'm not aware of a "myriad of function and performance problems" in the G200; moreover, the sentence mistakenly leads the reader to understand that those problems caused the G200 production to be discontinued in 2011. The fact is that the G200 production ended just to make room to the new G280.

No Avatar
on April 18, 2013 - 11:41am

Here's a reply from writer Mark Huber to Fabian's above comment regarding the G200:

I met with top Gulfstream executives right after they acquired Galaxy Aerospace, acquired the aircraft, and renamed it the G200. They informed me they were hard at work correcting a variety of problems with the aircraft which I enumerated some years later and at length in my review of that aircraft (see BJT October/November 2007). Quoting from my previous review of the G200:

"In the field, a list of serious mechanical, electrical and design problems plagued the aircraft. They included starter-generator failure, slow landing-gear actuators, jet fuel that vented into the aft equipment bay, bad wiring and malfunctioning flight controls and avionics displays.

"Inside, the cabin suffered myriad fit, finish and function problems that included flickering lights, toilets with inadequate capacity, truly awful seats and an erratic ventilation system. (The galley installation pinched the ventilation tube on early serial numbers, reducing fresh airflow.)

"Owners of low serial numbers were an unhappy lot and the company's self-admitted customer-service problems did nothing to assuage them. Dispatch reliability was low. One captain of a low-serial-number G200 diplomatically characterized it as 'a smart little airplane with major quality issues' and added, 'The Gulfstream warranty is very good for this aircraft and you certainly will need it.'

Gulfstream did in fact do much to solve many of these problems and provides G200 owners with excellent support, but it could never overcome the model's chief defects: wings that did not produce enough lift and engines with insufficient thrust for the aircraft. The G200 required a lot of pavement, especially when fully loaded. And it fell short on range goals. Those are the reasons why, today, a 2005 G200 is worth only 37 percent of its original sales price—worst in class for that year—while an Embraer Legacy 600 fetches 46 percent and a Challenger 300 commands 60 percent. Consequently, Gulfstream built the G280, an airplane with much better performance, thanks to a redesigned wing and more powerful engines.

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Quote/Unquote

“When you get into the larger aircraft it becomes like a hotel, with dozens of staff supporting the plane based in a galley area down below. You have very comprehensive cooking facilities, and on larger aircraft we have looked at theatres, with spiral staircases and a Steinway grand piano. The limitations for what you can put inside a plane are pretty much the limits of physics, and even money cannot always overcome that. Even so, people are still always trying to push [the limits]. ”

-Howard Guy of Design Q, a UK-based consultancy