Learjet: Goodbye to the original celebrity private jet

Goodbye to the original celebrity private jet
4 Min Read

Daily US Times: Learjet, once synonymous with private jet travel for the famous and super-rich, will stop production this year.

Bombardier, the owner of the private jet producer, has seen sales decline among its wealthy customers who are now demanding more comfortable and bigger private aircraft to carry them around the world.

The Learjet allows up to eight people to travel in relative luxury, and was championed by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Arnold Palmer and James Brown.

Singer James Brown with his Learjet at Los Angeles International Airport in 1969. Source: Getty Images

Having first flown in 1963, Canadian manufacturer Bombardier said the Learjet, created by US inventor Bill Lear, would be discontinued to focus on its other business jet models, the Global and Challenger series.

Greg Waldron, Asia editor of aviation magazine FlightGlobal, says: “Learjet is iconic in that the very name was interchangeable with ‘business jet’ for decades.”

“Ultimately, though, the market evolved and moved on and without the right commitment it is difficult to keep an aviation brand relevant over the longer term.”

Wealthy customers for private jets are increasingly looking for jets with larger cabins, like the Embraer Phenom 100, General Dynamics’ Gulfstream and Bombardier’s own Global series.

Bill Lear’s wife Moya standing in front of the prototype LearAvia aircraft. Source: Getty Images

These come with beds and showers and connect passengers to cities across the globe without the need to refuel.

Learjet’s demise, which has not been helped by the coronavirus pandemic, follows that of the equally iconic Boeing 747, which will cease production next year.

Eric Martel, Bombardier’s chief executive, says the “difficult decision” was part of a cost-cutting plan designed to save $400m (£290m) a year by 2023.

It includes the loss of 1,600 jobs in the US and Canada when production finally ends in the last quarter of 2021.

The private jet producer also includes some parts manufactured in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Having sold more than three thousands Learjets during its six-decade run, the aircraft’s heyday was the 1960s to 1980s when it created the business jet market.

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) magazine editor Thomas Horne said: “It started an industry and was the chariot of choice in the booming 1960s – made for the Mad Men of the day.”

“To many, any business jet is a’ Learjet’ – even if it’s a Falcon 8X or something else.”

The Learjet is just one of the casualties of an aviation industry battered by tough travel restrictions due to Covid pandemic, but some feel it may not completely disappear.

Christophe Chicandard, a director at private jet consultancy Jet8 said: “Bombardier has tried to sell LearJet on numerous occasions but it never happened as production sites and jobs needed to be preserved in Wichita and Belfast.”

A 42ft long limo built out of a Learjet. Source: Getty Images

He said China, India and Russia come to his mind as potential buyers of Learjet as they all have large domestic markets and no manufacturing of such aircraft type. The brand remains very strong.

Bombardier says it will continue to maintain and support existing Learjets, and offer upgrades to aircraft and interiors after the production line closes.

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