Learjet 75 Liberty
Learjet 75 Liberty

Bombardier Learjet 75 Liberty

Will the company that rescued the Learjet brand be the same one to bury it?

That’s the question that has dogged Bombardier ever since the company flushed development of the futuristic Learjet 85 program in 2015—after throwing $1.4 billion at it during the previous decade. This left Bombardier with just two variants of the Learjet alive in the market—the airframe that first flew in 1995 and was the basis for the Models 40 and 45. 

The current Learjet 75—an updated version of the 45—is the only Learjet left in production. Bombardier is manufacturing it at the anemic rate of just one per month. Meanwhile, competitive aircraft from Embraer, Pilatus, and Textron collectively saw deliveries of nearly 180 in 2019. 

Bombardier aims to change that with a new variant of the 75 called the Liberty. It eliminates features and some standard equipment and two passenger seats, but it comes at a greatly reduced price: $9.9 million versus $13.8 million for the original 75.

Learjet 75 Liberty Cabin
Learjet 75 Liberty Cabin

Industry analysts and some long-time Learjet customers have been publicly nonplussed. Speaking of Learjet last October, Flexjet chairman Kenn Ricci told Bloomberg News, “All good things must come to an end.” 

Ricci made his remarks as Bombardier, a highly diversified conglomerate with a serious debt problem, was navigating through a period of enormous organizational and financial upheaval. Over the last year, it has either disposed of, or entered into agreements to dispose of, its turboprop, commercial jet, flight training, and commercial rail businesses to pay down debt. These transactions have not eliminated the debt, but they have made it more manageable.

Bombardier Unveils New Learjet 75 Liberty

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Bombardier Unveils New Learjet 75 Liberty

The Canadian manufacturer "rescopes" a model—and attaches a lower price tag—to better compete with other light jets.

Perhaps more importantly, the parts and pieces sales will allow Bombardier to exclusively focus on its business jet enterprise. In addition to Learjet, Bombardier produces the popular Challenger and Global brands of business aircraft, and it sold 76 and 54 of those models respectively last year, producing revenues of $5.6 billion. In February, Bombardier CEO Alain Bellemare characterized the company’s business jet division as a $7 billion enterprise with an order backlog of more than $15 billion.

Learjet 75 Liberty Cabin
Learjet 75 Liberty Cabin

Bombardier’s business jet focus doesn’t necessarily answer the question of what will happen to the Learjet brand. But it is important to note that the company rescued that brand once before, when it acquired it from the depths of dysfunction in 1990, improving existing models and introducing new ones—like the 45.

Bombardier launched the most recent iteration of that aircraft, the aforementioned Model 75, in 2013. The 75 featured new avionics, tweaked engines, revised winglets, and a restyled interior. The new engines and avionics helped the 75 retain the value proposition offered by its predecessors, the Model 45 and 45XR: midsize comfort and performance with light-jet operating costs. 

The Honeywell TFE731-40BR engines in the back, at 3,850 pounds of thrust each, have 10 percent more takeoff power than the engines that powered the 45. That gives the 75, which is aided by new canted winglets, faster climb times, better short-field performance, and improved high/hot capabilities. The engines are 4 percent more fuel efficient than the Dash 20BRs they replace, feature improved turbine sections, and make innovative use of ceramic coatings on critical components such as ducts and turbine shrouds. 

The 75 also debuted the Bombardier Vision cockpit, which is based on the Garmin G5000 touchscreen avionics system and includes synthetic-vision technology and new GWX 70 weather radar. In addition, it allows pilots to control cabin lighting and to dial directly into the Iridium satphone via the touchscreens while wearing their headsets.

Learjet 75 Liberty cockpit
Learjet 75 Liberty cockpit

The 75’s restyled cabin borrows innovations from the aborted midsize-plus Learjet 85, including sidewall cutouts for increased onboard personal storage, a smoother-looking headliner and revamped passenger service units. Passenger seats were refoamed and resculpted in two-tone leather for added comfort and a more modern appearance; however, they use the same frames as the seats on the 45. 

The Learjet 75 has a 30 percent larger galley than the 45—enough room to serve eight passengers—thanks to elimination of the right-hand forward closet. The lavatory has been redesigned, yielding a more contemporary look and better functionality with increased storage space. The 75 also comes with a wider selection of cabin materials and finishes. 

While laudable, these changes weren’t enough to overcome the 75’s chief market handicaps: its price and operating costs. Similar aircraft from Embraer and Textron’s Cessna unit, albeit a little slower and with somewhat smaller cabins, were selling for up to almost $5 million less than the $13.8 million 75. And, unlike the 75, those aircraft were certified to the less stringent Part 23 of the U.S. Federal Aviation Regulations, could be flown single-pilot, and had lower direct operating costs. 

Learjet 75 Liberty
Learjet 75 Liberty Cabin

Discounted fleet orders from operators such as Flexjet and the U.K.’s Zenith were able to keep the 75’s production line open. By late 2017, however, Bombardier admitted that the potential for the aircraft had dwindled to one delivery per month—a prediction that has held close to steady for the last three years.

So in 2019, Bombardier announced the Learjet 75 Liberty in an effort to regain market share—or at least keep the lights on at Learjet’s Wichita assembly line. The aircraft eliminates the two forward aft facing cabin seats, which are replaced by two fold-down ottomans mounted to the forward bulkhead; this creates a pair of executive seats with legroom comparable to what you might find in a large-cabin jet. These seats are accompanied by two oversized and more substantial fold-out sidewall tables. 

The external accent lights, auxiliary power unit (APU), and lav sink—all standard on the 75—are optional on the Liberty. Removing features saves weight and that in turn boosts the Liberty’s range by 40 nautical miles to 2,080. But there are downsides. Without an APU, you’ll need an independent ground power source to avoid draining the batteries if you want to operate cabin air conditioning or run electrical systems while sitting on the ramp with the engines off. Competing aircraft from Cessna and Embraer don’t come with APUs either, but the Embraer Phenom 300E does allow you to run the right engine while on the ramp in “APU mode” to provide cabin cooling. 

Customers can still purchase a 75 by ordering a Liberty and optioning the removed equipment, including the additional two forward cabin seats. The raison d’etre for the Liberty, according to a Bombardier spokesman, is that it is “rightly scoped for the market and competes more directly with light jets.”

And for those who value more personal space and light jet capital costs, who value the inherent increased safety that an airplane built to the Part 25 “transport category” provides, the Liberty may scratch an itch. But in the larger universe, this type of product tuning serves merely to keep an iconic brand on life support. The price of truly reinvigorating Learjet may be beyond what a restructured Bombardier is willing to pay and more than the market will support.


2020 Learjet 75 Liberty

Price                                        $9.9 million 

Crew                                       2

Passengers                              6–7 

Range*                                    2,080 nm

Maximum cruising speed       464 kt

Service ceiling            51,000 ft

Maximum takeoff weight       21,500 lb 

Takeoff distance at MTOW    4,440 ft 

Cabin

            Height                         4 ft 11 in 

            Width                          5 ft 1 in 

            Length                         19 ft 10 in

Baggage

External                      50 cu ft

Internal                        15 cu ft

*4 passengers, 2 crew, NBAA IFR reserves

Source: Bombardier

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