Learjet 75 Liberty

Never has our First Look feature also become a last look. But while writing this in mid-February, Bombardier Business Aircraft decided to halt production of the Learjet later this year. Words: Yves Le Marquand

THE LAST LEARJET, the 75 Liberty, which entered service in November 2020, is based on the 75 platform, but Bombardier has lowered the price to $9.9m. The idea behind the Liberty was to beat its competitors in the light-jet category on range and speed with a mid-sized cabin but come in at a competitive price point.

Despite lacking some of 75’s original features, at millions less, you get more for your money with the 75 Liberty, according to Bombardier.

When the Canadian OEM stopped development of the Learjet 85 – after 10 years and $1.4bn of investment – it was left with two models in production. Those were the Learjet 40 and 45. In 2013, it launched the Learjet 75, an updated 45, the only Learjet left in production.

In 2019, Bombardier manufactured the 75 at an average of one per month (completing 12 per year in 2018 and 2019). Meanwhile, rival aircraft from Embraer, Pilatus, and Textron collectively saw deliveries of nearly 180 over the same period.

Bombardier’s plan with the Liberty, upon launch, seemed an attempt to buck that trend. While it eliminates some features and standard equipment and two passenger seats, it comes in at nearly $4m less. Mathieu Noël, director of product strategy, Industrial Design and Sales Engineering, Bombardier said the idea was to bring the Liberty “to a broader audience, by adapting the product and price point”.

Taking on competitors in the light-jet segment with a midsized-jet cabin, the Liberty offers numerous seating configurations. It can be customised to an eight-passenger layout, but the Liberty is also the first midsized-jet to offer an executive suite. In this configuration the aft cabin features a six-seat layout making space for the “office in the sky”. The two forward aft cabin seats lost are replaced by two fold-down ottomans mounted to the forward bulkhead; creating a pair of large-cabin jet legroom-size seats. These seats are accompanied by two oversized fold-out sidewall tables.

Services onboard include a media centre and Gogo ATG 4G offering high-speed connectivity. The cabin was debuted with a full-scale mockup at the NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) in 2019.

In the cockpit, Garmin’s G5000 avionics suite is the deck of choice with three high resolution 14in (35.6cm) displays. Other features include: advanced controls such as the Synthetic Vision System (SVS), triple integrated Flight Management System (FMS) and graphical flight planning. There is also advanced weather radar and datalink capabilities.

Bombardier says the 75 Liberty is the fastest aircraft in the light-jet category, with a normal cruise speed of Mach 0.76 and top speed of Mach 0.81. The power is provided by two Honeywell TFE731-40BR engines putting out 3,850lbf of thrust – the same engines that feature in the Learjet 75.

Quiet please: A true pocket door between the cockpit and the cabin significantly reduces cabin noise and increases privacy.

The Liberty has a maximum range of 2,081nm (with six passengers and two crew), 40nm more than the baseline 75. To compare, the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW535E1s-powered Embraer Phenom 300E has a 2,010nm range (with five occupants), and the Williams International FJ44-3As-powered Cessna Citation CJ3+, has a 2,040nm range with nine passengers, according to the respective OEMs.

The 75 Liberty needs 4,440ft (1,353m) to takeoff and 2,296ft (700m) to land thanks to thrust reversers. By comparison, an Embraer Phenom 300E has a takeoff and landing distance of 3,209ft (978 m) and 2,212ft (674 m) respectively.

With the Liberty, Bombardier made some equipment optional, such as auxiliary power units and restroom sinks. Changes also included upping the aircraft’s max zero-fuel weight to 7,480kg, increased from the standard model’s 7,260kg weight, and boosting its payload to 1,320kg, from 957kg. There are downsides. Without an APU, you will need a ground power source to avoid draining the batteries to operate air conditioning or run systems on the ramp with engines off.

Brian Foley, founder, Brian Foley Associates commends the speed of the Liberty and its altitude ceiling (51,000ft) compared with its market rivals. The aircraft would be attractive to a “Learjet brand freak”, possibly updating from their 45, in his opinion. However, the news that Bombardier is ceasing production by the end of year means this demand was not enough, Foley told Corporate Jet Investor.

The executive suite in the forward cabin is said to deliver the most legroom in its class.

The Bombardier 75 Liberty has a landing distance of 3,209ft or just under 1km.

With a maximum speed of Mach 0.81, the 75 Liberty has an initial cruise altitude of 45,000ft.

The Liberty also has a more stringent safety Part 25 ‘transport category’ certification rating from the FAA, a higher bar than the Part 23 standards under which most light jets are approved. That certifies the Liberty to commercial aircraft safety standards. The leading light jets (Phenom 300, CJ4, Pilatus PC-24 are the volume leaders) are all Part 23 designs. This is why Rolland Vincent, president, Rolland Vincent Associates classifies the 75 Liberty differently.

He told Corporate Jet Investor: “I think of the Learjet 75 as a Part 25 ‘super-light’ jet – this is how we categorise it in our analyses, with it being a direct competitor with the Citation XLS+.”

The Learjet 75 Liberty has been tested and certified to withstand the impact of a larger and heavier bird strike than its competition, according to Bombardier. Also, the aircraft can safely fly with ice on normally protected surfaces.

Corporate and private uses aside, the 75 Liberty also serves as an air ambulance. Warsaw-based operator, Lotnicze Pogotowie Ratunkowe (LPR) ordered two aircraft from Bombardier.

“The Learjet 75 Liberty is a value-added business tool for those seeking a safer and more efficient travel option,” said Peter Likoray, senior vice president, sales and marketing, new aircraft, Bom-bardier. “This achievement would not have been possible without our highly skilled team members in Wichita, who are incredibly proud to be delivering the best Learjet yet.”

Nevertheless, the industry has been saying goodbye to the Learjet series. Kenn Ricci, founder, Directional Aviation noted: “All good things must come to an end,” but the launch of the Liberty appeared to say otherwise. January saw the completion of the sale of Bombardier’s transport segment to Alstom. Allowing the firm to focus solely on its business jet division.

The Bombardier Vision flight deck features a Synthetic Vision System, improved ergonomics and advanced controls designed to reduce pilot workload.

Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group, told Corporate Jet Investor: “After decades in the wilderness, Learjet’s acquisition by Bombardier provided stability and a strong broader market lifted the Learjet series’ fortunes. Bombardier, however, has neglected the product line. The first of two big initiatives, the Continental, became the Challenger 300 and decamped to Montreal. The second, the high-tech 85, was ‘paused’, one of the sillier euphemisms for death.”

Commenting before the end of production was revealed, Aboulafia said Bombardier would love to sell Learjet, but to whom? “If it’s Cessna, they’d just kill the 70/75”. Therefore, Aboulafia’s assumption was that the company would stay in Bombardier’s hands and that it would try to keep its share of the small cabin market as that segment revives. “But hopes for that revival are distant and Embraer continues to be quite aggressive at lower and higher price points. Lear delivery numbers are falling fast. While Liberty represents a smart counterattack at the low end of this spectrum, time isn’t on this model’s side.”

“A sunset programme,” Foley believes that the Liberty is Bombardier clearing out its 75 inventory. Stripped down models of aircraft are unusual, especially as an update. “They buy several years out – engines and systems – and they couldn't just stop the programme. They expedited the demise of the 75 by dropping the price and clearing out the vendor commitments.”

Nearly six decades on from its origins and with over 3,000 aircraft delivered since its debut in 1963, it is sad to see this First Look also become Learjet’s last. Founded by William Powell Lear as Swiss American Aviation Corporation, the Learjet boasted customers such as Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. Learjet was a brand name that became a synonymous with what it was — a private jet.

Yves Le Marquand, Reporter, Corporate Jet Investor

Yves Le Marquand, Reporter, Corporate Jet Investor