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Bombardier unveils revamped small business jet to compete with Embraer

By Allison Lampert

By Allison Lampert

LAS VEGAS, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Bombardier on Monday unveiled its revamped Liberty Learjet 75 corporate plane, betting that extra legroom and a lower price tag would help the Canadian company beat back competition from Embraer SA's market leading model.

Bombardier and Embraer are both turning to their corporate jet divisions for growth after shedding control of their commercial aviation programs.

"It's more space, and more performance (than competitors) with similar cost and operating cost," Mischa Loeffler, manager for product planning at Bombardier Aviation told Reuters at Monday's unveiling of a mock-up model of the plane for the news media. The unveiling came ahead of the world's largest business jet show, which kicks off on Tuesday.

The soft-selling Learjet, Bombardier's smallest business aircraft, is now trailing Embraer's market-leading Phenom line, according to industry data.

Montreal-based Bombardier is expanding its offering of higher-margin, large-cabin business jets, with the launch of the Global 7500, 6500 and 5500 to compete with top-of-the-line models from rivals Gulfstream and France's Dassault Aviation.

In its latest forecast, Honeywell is expecting up to 7,600 new business jet deliveries worth $248 billion from 2020 to 2029, fueled by demand from corporate flight departments and the introduction of new models.

After years of tepid demand, and analyst speculation that the Learjet line was up for sale, Bombardier sees the lower-priced Liberty as a strategy to boost demand in a market dominated by lower-priced jets from Brazil's Embraer, Textron's Cessna and Pilatus Aircraft.

According to the latest shipment data from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), Embraer delivered 27 Phenoms during the first half of 2019 compared with four Learjet deliveries for Bombardier.

Jay Beever, vice president for design operations at Embraer Executive Jets, told Reuters the Learjet was part of an "industry sparring match," which he said would benefit customers with improved designs.

The Learjet 75, which seats up to seven, listed in 2018 for $13 million compared with just over $9 million for the Phenom.

Bombardier has lowered the Liberty Learjet's list price to $9.9 million this year, by removing once standard equipment like the auxiliary power unit (APU).

"At the end of the day, it is a combination of ownership plus operating costs and dispatch reliability that are of particular importance to owners (and) operators in this part of the market," said aviation analyst Rolland Vincent.

But cutting the price could hurt residual values of the Learjet 75, which already lose more than half of their value after five years, according to industry pricing data, he warned.

Analyst Richard Aboulafia said the Liberty Learjet would help keep the line viable but added that it was unlikely to win a big chunk of the market back from Embraer.

The "Phenom 300 looks safe," Aboulafia said. (Reporting By Allison Lampert in Las Vegas Editing by Denny Thomas and Tom Brown)