Bombardier Challenger 3500

Bombardier’s Challenger 3500

This super-midsize model has the secret sauce.

The Bombardier Challenger 3500 is first in class for one reason: its cabin. The 3500’s dimensions place it in the super-midsize category, but it’s large-cabin in feel, features, and attention to detail. That’s important because when you fly privately on a regular basis, small annoyances can start to feel like large ones. 

Your neck gets a crick if the passenger windows are too small and too low. An anemic pressurization system induces fatigue after a few hours. Maybe the air from the overhead gasper can’t be angled right, the cupholders are too deep or shallow, or the drink rail is too high or low. Same for the overhead or siderail passenger cabin controls and armrests. Perhaps the sidewall table is too hard to stow or deploy—and once you pull it out, it wobbles, isn’t level, or is too small. Maybe the seat doesn’t recline in a comfortable range, or the swivel lock is too loose or tight, or it doesn’t work at all. Or, when you do swivel the seat, you bang into the knees of the passenger across the aisle—because that aisle is too narrow. Or you tend to trip in that aisle because it is trenched. Perhaps the galley, lavatory, or baggage hold is too small.

Differences of a few hundred miles of range, a few knots of speed, or a few gallons of fuel burn per hour—even a couple of million dollars off the list price—can pale in importance alongside passenger comfort and satisfaction. That’s why manufacturers conduct extensive human-factors studies and focus groups to design customer dissatisfaction out of the cabin. 

Some do this better than others. And when it comes to super-midsize business jets, Bombardier has had the secret sauce for two decades. The Bombardier Challenger 3500 is the latest variant of an aircraft family that is flown by more fractional and charter operators, and boasts a higher resale value, than any of its competitors. In a super-heated segment, a 2022 model year 3500 was recently commanding 138 percent of its list price when new, according to the valuation service Vref.

Unmatched Popularity

The aircraft that is now called the 3500 was first badged the Challenger 300, with deliveries beginning in 2003. Since then, Bombardier has sold nearly 900 aircraft in the Challenger 300 family—the 300, 350, and 3500. No other jet in the category even comes close to that popularity.

To understand the 3500’s value proposition, it helps to consider the history of the market. During the 1990s, business jet manufacturers invented the super-midsize category. 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 combination: Cessna recycled its Citation X fuselage and gave it a new nose, as well as new wings, avionics, and engines, naming the demonstrably slower but more economical finished product Sovereign. Three other companies—Galaxy, Hawker Beechcraft, and Embraer—started with clean-sheet-of-paper designs. 

Bombardier Challenger 3500
Bombardier Challenger 3500

The Galaxy (which was rebranded the G200 after Gulfstream acquired the program) suffered a myriad of function and performance problems and was discontinued in 2011, replaced with the much-improved G280. In 2006, more than a decade after it was first announced, the Hawker 4000 finally came to market. By then, it needed multiple upgrades that its maker could ill-afford. Hawker Beechcraft filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Textron Aviation picked up the parts and pieces in 2014, shuttering the production of all Hawker Beech jets, with its Cessna unit in 2019 fielding the super-midsize Citation Longitude, larger than the Sovereign and, some say, basically a mostly metal version of the 4000. Embraer’s Legacy, now rechristened the Praetor, is a fine aircraft. 

But the cabins of all these competitors are smaller in terms of either volume or width, except for the one in the G280, which gets continuing demerits for its trenched center aisle. And the cabin-size differential tends to remind passengers that they are indeed in a super-medium tube instead of a large one. 

Challenger 3500 interior
Bombardier Challenger 3500 cabin

Numerous Cabin Enhancements

Bombardier creates the illusion that you are in a large cabin, starting with the interior cross-section, which is six feet tall and slightly more than seven feet wide. Beginning with the Challenger 350 series, the airframer incorporated cabin elements from its larger Challenger 650 and Global 6000 series, including bigger windows, better soundproofing an upgraded audio system, and a more functional galley. That trend continued with the latest iteration, the $26.7 million 3500, which Bombardier first delivered last year. 

The 3500’s cabin has been refreshed with its more stylish, comfortable, and functional Nuage seats from its line of large-cabin, long-range Global aircraft; voice-activated cabin controls; wireless personal-device charging pads built into the side ledges; 4K, 24-inch displays; and a sound system that can play a variety of media and be optimized for a passenger’s location. The cabin altitude has been lowered by 2,000 feet to a maximum of 4,850 feet while the airplane is at 41,000 feet. The redesigned forward galley features room for an espresso machine, a microwave or high-temperature oven, a wine cooler, and a crystal holder. A sound-insulating sliding door now separates the entryway from the passenger cabin, further quieting the cabin. 

Challenger 3500 Cockpit
Challenger 3500 Cockpit

In the flight deck, an autothrottle system is now standard, providing pilots with more precise engine control, and the instrument panel can be configured with the latest safety-enhancing technology, including a head-up display with enhanced vision, synthetic vision, multiscan weather radar, and a dual inertial reference system for navigation. 

The refreshed cabin and improved flight deck combine to deliver a large-jet experience with the price and operating economics of a super-midsize model. 

2023 Bombardier Challenger 3500 at a Glance

Price: $26.7 million 

Engines: 2 Honeywell HTF7350 turbofans, 7,323 lb of thrust each

Avionics: Collins Pro Line 21 

Range: 3,400 nm (4 pax, 2 crew, NBAA IFR reserves, Mach 0.77) 

Maximum cruise speed: Mach 0.83 

Crew: 2

Passengers: 10

Cabin: 6 ft (H), 7 ft 2 in (W), 25 ft 2 in (L) 

Baggage compartment: 106 cu ft