Publications

- April 1, 2021: Vol. 8, Number 4

The iconic Learjet, once of favorite of celebs and business execs, will cease production

by Mike Consol

The historic Learjet, the luxury private aircraft made famous during the 1960s by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and Dean Martin, will end production during the fourth quarter of this year, the victim of flagging demand and profitability.

In lieu of Learjet, Bombardier, which acquired Learjet Corp. in 1990, will concentrate its resources on its larger and more profitable business jets, including its Challenger and Global lines.

The jet’s storied history was remembered this way by CNN: “Elvis Presley reportedly borrowed Sinatra’s Learjet to elope to Las Vegas in 1967. It was mentioned in the lyrics of the 1972 Carly Simon song, ‘You’re so vain,’ in which she sang ‘You flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia, to see the total eclipse of the sun.’ These days, celebrities seem to prefer competitors like Gulfstream (Tom Cruise), and Bombardier’s larger planes like Global (Oprah) and Challenger (Jay-Z). If you’re Drake, you’re going with a full-size Boeing 767 — a commercial jet refitted for private use.”

More than 3,000 Learjets have been manufactured and delivered since its entry-into-service in 1963. In 1974, the worldwide Learjet fleet had exceeded the 1 million flight hours mark and in 1975 the company produced its 500th jet, both industry firsts, according to biographical information from Wikipedia.

“The iconic Learjet aircraft has had a remarkable and lasting impact on business aviation,” said Bombardier CEO Eric Martel. “Passengers all over the world love to fly this exceptional aircraft and count on its unmatched performance and reliability. However, given the increasingly challenging market dynamics, we have made this difficult decision to end Learjet production.”

The Learjet brand was launched in the early 1960s by Bill Lear and quickly became synonymous with luxury travel for celebrities and business moguls. The first Learjet model was the six-passenger Learjet 23, which made its first flight on Oct. 7, 1963. Learjet expanded its lineup over the decades to include six- and eight-passenger models.

When Bombardier acquired the Learjet Corp. 31 years ago, it expanded the line to include models that included Learjet 40s, 45s and 60s, as well as the modern Learjet 70/75 pairing, which entered service this past decade. But, FlightGlobal, the online news site, reported that Bombardier stumbled with the Learjet 85, a composite-skinned model that the company cancelled in 2015 following a series of delays and production problems.

The Robb Report wrote that the company has also had some financial misfortunes during the past decade when Bombardier invested $1.4 billion to develop the Learjet 85 with the goal of positioning it as the future of the brand, only to shutter the project in 2015 because of larger financial issues. In addition to the aborted Learjet 85 program, Learjet struggled because the market for midsize and light jets is nowhere near its peak before the global financial crisis, according to aviation-industry strategist Brian Foley, who was quoted in the magazine. Meanwhile, Learjet was competing with Embraer and Citation, both of which offer less expensive but similar-sized business jets.

Martel said the company will reduce its overall workforce by 1,600 people, though Bombardier will retain Learjet’s headquarters in Wichita, Kan., as a support center, as the company will continue servicing its in-service fleet. Learjets are assembled at a facility in Wichita, though only the Learjet 75 remains in production for now.

 

Mike Consol (m.consol@irei.com) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.

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