The Making and Birth of Iconic Aircraft
It started with a call. Would I be interested in visiting the Bombardier factory in Montreal? Did I want to witness the making and birth of an iconic aircraft?Did I want to meet the people making them? Did I want to experience the process of “specking” an aircraft from the myriad of available choices? There would be a surprise thrown in though I wouldn’t find out about it until later. Much later.
THE JOYS OF TRAVELING COMMERCIAL
The answer to the first and all other questions was obvious, more than obvious. A few days later I boarded an airline flight at La Guardia airport in New York and the experience was bittersweet. It was unpleasant and intrusive unless you enjoy being palpated in intimate parts of your body by hefty people in polyester pants and rubber gloves but it also confirmed and validated the need for private aviation. I was assigned a very uncomfortable seat in a rather empty regional plane and attended to (and I use the word lightly) by a flight attendant venting her anger at the world in short verbal bursts of attack words. An inedible snack purporting to be distant relatives of turkey meat and cheese later we landed in Montreal. The immigration process is simple if you consider solving Fermat’s Theorem easy. You are told to move to the right to a screening machine that doesn’t work until you are told to move to the left and then to return to the original place from whence you came where the machine still doesn’t work. You are then told to abandon the effort altogether and proceed to an unfailingly polite immigration officer who kindly stamps your passport. You then wait in a long line for another officer to surrender the piece of paper the first officer stamped.
WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS
The experience was capped by a limousine driver who never showed up but the upside was a beautiful evening in Montreal. A great diner and a restful night later, Nicolas Poirier-Quesnel from Bombardier picked me up bright and early at my hotel. Bombardier’s Global 5000 and Global 6000 aircraft Completion and Delivery facilities seem to stretch across the whole of Dorval airport and they probably do. The entrance to the main building is grand and the reception warm. A long walk and we enter a room, actually a suite of rooms large enough to embarrass a luxury hotel. This where part of the magic happens. Fabrics of every color, every texture and seemingly every material known to humankind hang from the walls. Swatches of carpet, marble and stone, yes actual stone flooring, line the next room. Samples of exquisite porcelain china and leather accessories of every kind are displayed in glass armoires and silver cutlery is arrayed in cases. The choice is bewildering and overwhelming. Choosing an aircraft requires mental discipline and stamina but thankfully the task is made considerably easier with a staff of in-house designers ready to help. I am told clients often bring their own designers, more often than not the professionals who decorated their homes. Problems arise because these decorators are frequently unfamiliar with the legal and technical constraints of aircraft. They often have to be reminded fireplaces aren’t really appropriate in aircraft.
The Bombardier designers led me through options but where always mindful of weight, the Kryptonite of aviation. The Bombardier facilities don’t merely cater to clients proper but have ample room for their crews and executives and support staff as well. Clients can and are expected to continue conducting their everyday business from these offices. The dining facilities are luxurious and have the feel of a fine restaurant. The service is crisp and superb but the stars are the chefs. One Indian client who recently spent a few weeks at the facility insisted on bringing his own chef. Bombardier was more than willing to accommodate him but their chef asked to be given a chance to dazzle the client. Six weeks later the client asked to meet the chef to thank him and left him with a teasing parting shot “not quite as good as my mother’s cooking but still amazing!” A short distance from the Global 5000 and Global 6000 aircraft completion factory with its dynamic manufacturing lies the heart and soul of Bombardier and the ‘raison d’être’ of my trip. The factory is for lack of a better word, huge. It spans about 1800 ft or about 550 meters in length. You could technically land one of the planes being built here in the length of the building if you came in light and stomped on the brakes. It’s surprisingly quiet and remarkably free of any agitas. The airplanes are built in a production line and components are assembled in a logical manner. Bombardier long ago sought to optimize the making of aircraft and evolve it from aviation’s typically archaic and artisanal process. To that end, it sent engineers to Japan to learn and integrate automobile-building techniques to their processes. The result is a streamlined assembly line where technology and computers meet production ergonomics.
The Global 5000 and Global 6000 green manufacturing assembly line is in Toronto. The facilities encompass one point seven million square-feet spread over 380 acres of land. Interiors and painting are done in Montreal. The factories and completion centers are divided in three sites covering almost two million square-feet. All cabinets and seats are made in Montreal as well.
A visit to the cabinet-making facility is an exercise in precise quality-control. A craftsman challenged me to spot a defect in a wood panel that had been flagged for a defect. 10 minutes of careful examination in numerous positions that reminded me of early yoga classes seeking to emulate most angles and lighting conditions revealed nothing to my untrained eyes. It was only after I gave up that the cabinet-maker pointed to a minuscule or rather microscopic indentation on the side of the panel. It would have passed my test but clearly failed his. I was told a few hours of elbow grease would solve the problem. He showed me the “sand paper” he would use to buff out the indentation. It had the asperity of a regular piece of paper…
The Global finished aircraft are rolled on one end of the building for delivery to the client and their first glimpse of their plane is often from a balcony affording a grand view. The hangar is more than clean, it’s spotless and a proper forum for the delivery of a Global jet.
The breadth of Bombardier’s Business Aircraft operation is staggering. It’s a seven billion dollar business employing over 10,000 people with a healthy seventeen billion dollar backlog. Its Commercial Aircraft division adds another 2.4 billion dollars to the bottom line and coupled with its Aerostructures and Engineering Services and Transportation businesses it amounts to annual revenues of over eighteen billion dollars. It’s a global company in the truest sense with eighty thousand employees spread across the world. Forty five percent of the work-force operate in Canada with Europe and the United States a close second and third and Mexico and Asia-Pacific and the rest of the world rounding the rest. There are seventy-five production and engineering facilities in twenty eight countries.
“BOMBARDIER RECREATES THE FEELING OF BEING IN YOUR LIVING ROOM, A FLYING LIVING ROOM”
A long couple of days were coming to an end when Mathieu St Cyr and Nicolas broke the great news. In traditional Bombardier fashion, they felt no visit
to their cherished facility would be complete without experiencing the products they make and as such they arranged for a flight home to New York. The next morning we all met at Dorval and boarded a new Challenger 650 for an hour’s flight to Teterboro airport. I’ll save the details for an upcoming article on the 650 but suffice to say it was a glorious ride. Their planes may be cherished by pilots but they are made for passengers and as such they are quiet, comfortable and seriously addictive from swift takeoff to soft landing.
All these figures and numbers are impressive but they don’t accurately begin to describe the feel of the place. The sensation I felt is one of awe, of sharing a few days with a group of people united in their passion to build great aircraft and to leave their imprint on an industry built on dedication. This vibe is something numbers can’t begin to convey, it’s in their DNA, it’s in the air and to that end I have coined a new nickname for the “Global Express” I, heretofore rename it the ‘Global Success”.
Bombardier’s Business Aircraft
operation is a global company in the
truest sense with eighty thousand
employees spread across the world with
75 production and engineering facilities
in 28 countries