““[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 Global Express
The uber jet's rarefied air was new territory for Bombardier when it announced the long-range, large-cabin Global Express in 1991. Bombardier's challenge to Gulfstream's dominance of the market for large corporate jets was fraught with perils that would show up on early-production aircraft nearly 10 years later. Interior completions took way too long; water, sanitation and fuel lines froze; and the avionics system annoyed pilots with myriad erroneous engine-indication-and-crew-alerting-system (EICAS) messages-"garbage CAS," in pilot lingo.
"It was a bit of a learning curve for us," admitted Bombardier sales manager Tony Regillo. However, despite the teething pains-all since largely resolved-the Global hit the market as the fastest and most comfortable long-range business jet you could buy. Only now is Gulfstream fielding a serious challenge to it with the much-heralded G650.
Two main things make the Global a better buy in the eyes of its owners: cabin comfort and speed.
A Global's passenger compartment is 10 inches wider and one inch taller than a Gulfstream GV/G550's, yielding 471 more cubic feet of cabin space, even though the Gulfstream's cabin is a foot and a half longer. That translates into more shoulder and headroom and better aisle clearance-little things that mean a lot on a 12-hour flight.
Typical cabin configuration isn't all that different from what you'll find in other jets in this category: entryway, forward lav, crew rest area and galley followed by a club-four grouping of large executive seats, four smaller seats arrayed around a conference table, a divan opposite two facing seats and an aft lavatory. Multiple permutations of theme are available, including a private aft stateroom with pocket doors for privacy, but basically the cabin is laid out in three zones with seating for 11 to 14 passengers.
Owing to manufacturing efficiencies, the Global has the same fuselage cross-section as the Bombardier CRJ200 regional jet; unfortunately, both aircraft also have small windows that are placed too low for comfortable viewing. Insufficient ambient light from these windows makes the Global's large cabin feel smaller. Bombardier partially addressed this problem on the 2005 Global XRS block change, going to a redesigned window surround on the cabin shell that lets in more light. A new cabin shell incorporating this feature can be had on the retrofit market for pre-2005 Globals for approximately $250,000. Notably, when Bombardier unveiled renderings last year for its new Globals, the 7000 and the 8000, it showed the windows enlarged and moved up on the fuselage. Somebody in Montreal finally got the memo. (Bombardier recently made a similar adjustment on another aircraft that had this problem-the Challenger 605.)
Of course, a Global used to its full potential is going to do a fair amount of flying in the dark and many owners use it as a glorified flying bedroom, with Ambien and a blindfold followed by breakfast over Ireland and a landing in Paris. They can do this because the cabin noise level in a Global is relatively low to begin with and even lower if it has been retrofitted with the latest in sound-dampening technology, generally high-tech thermo-acoustic blankets that add less than 400 pounds to the aircraft's weight. Replacing the sound insulation is an important part of an overall cabin refurbishment, according to Sean Gillespie of completion center Flying Colours. "Sound insulation breaks down and you will want to replace it," he said.
Most older Globals (1998 to 2004 vintage) are coming up for cabin refurbishment that costs anywhere from $800,000 to $3 million, depending on the extent. A simple re-rag-new upholstery, carpet, sidewall coverings-represents the lower end of the spectrum while all the latest and greatest satcom and in-flight entertainment options will push you toward the upper limit. Most of the time, the price comes in somewhere in the middle of the range, with the process taking 10 to 15 weeks. Popular add-ons include the Lufthansa Technik NICE cabin-management system and LED lighting.
Then there is the matter of the toilets. Early Globals offered an optional vacuum toilet system, but it was noisy and expensive. An improved vacuum system has been standard on the aircraft since 2005 and by all accounts it works well. Before then, however, most customers opted for the old-style dye, disinfectant and deodorant "blue water" system, which had a major drawback-it would freeze up in flight and on the ground. The problem was particularly acute for operators who stored the airplane outside in cold climates. Riding on an airplane for 12 hours without a properly functioning commode is not a pleasant experience.
A Bombardier spokesman said that the retrofit of heated lines and proper operational procedures largely eliminated the problem, but flight crews and experts on older Globals seem to agree that if you're going somewhere cold, you need to park this airplane in a heated hangar to minimize chances of a problem. "The freezing of the lines is definitely an issue," said a Global maintenance expert who asked not to be named. However, most owners don't consider retrofitting a $300,000 vacuum toilet system on an older Global to be cost-effective or necessary.
Of course, the typical Global flight is nowhere near 12 hours; it is more like 2.5. So why do people buy a Global when they rarely use it to its full potential? Because they can.
And no matter where you're flying, a Global will get you there quickly. At fast cruise of Mach 0.88, the aircraft easily reaches 5,000 nautical miles. Back off the throttles and you can stretch it to 6,500 and still post reasonable speeds and block times: Tokyo to Teterboro in less than 12 hours. The Global's wing delivers fast speeds without making landings feel like a carrier trap. Typical touchdown speeds are around 110 knots-much slower than an airliner's-allowing safe stops in less than 2,700 feet of runway without giving passengers neck sprain from the deceleration.
Like all complex aircraft, the Global has parts that break from time to time. Bombardier's customer service appears to be getting better on this airplane, but it still finished last in the 2010 Annual Product Support Survey in our sister publication Aviation International News. Over the years, I've visited many corporate operators of Bombardier aircraft and the visits always go something like this:
"How do you like the airplane?"
"What about customer service?"
"Don't get me started."
The Global is a great airplane and it deserves customer service to match. It really was the first business jet that pulverized the paradigm that arriving quickly meant ducking, squeezing into a seat and staying there. The current model, the Global XRS (introduced in 2005), features a restyled cabin and improved avionics. The recently unveiled Global 7000 and 8000, which are scheduled to enter service beginning in 2016, will fly even faster and farther, with ranges from 7,300 to 7,900 nautical miles. The 7000 will have a 10-foot longer fuselage, yielding a more capacious cabin. Like all Globals, both new models will be built for comfort and speed.