A JET-PROPELLED BOOM

It was just five years ago that Bombardier Aerospace expanded its business jet repair facility at Bradley International Airport by 115,000 square feet. Yet there are already days when Jim Scavotto finds himself saying ``no room'' to people flying private planes that can cost $55 million each.

``We've had many times when we have had to tell customers, `I don't have room,''' said Scavotto, general manager of Bombardier's Bradley operation, which opened in 1981. ``I mean, full is full.''

In a given week, nearly 40 Bombardier aircraft, from little Lear jets to ocean-crossing Global Express models, might sit nose-to-tail in the company's hangars, Scavotto said.

The business of business jets is very good these days, and not just for Bombardier, one of the biggest players in the industry.

Last year, total deliveries reached a record 885, up 18 percent from 2005, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, a trade group representing about 50 business aircraft producers. This year should produce another record, with analysts and producers predicting shipments of about 1,000 aircraft worth more than $16 billion.

``We've never seen days like these,'' said analyst Richard Aboulafia of Virginia's Teal Group, which published a study of the business jet industry in April. ``It's just really fantastic. In terms of size, it once again eclipses the combat aircraft market in total value.''

Business is so good that Bombardier -- long the lone marquee business jet name at Bradley -- will soon be sharing the limelight.

On July 23, the Brazilian jet maker Embraer broke ground on a $10 million, 45,000-square-foot executive jet service depot on Perimeter Road, one of three similar facilities it is building in the United States. The others are in Arizona and Florida. They will join an existing Nashville facility.

Embraer says its Bradley facility should be completed by mid-2008 and will employ 60 within five years. It will service only Embraer aircraft. Bombardier employs about 325 and works exclusively on Bombardier aircraft.

Best known as a commercial aircraft maker -- the world's third-largest, behind Boeing and Airbus -- Embraer has embraced the business jet as a way to expand its market. Besides Bombardier, Gulfstream, Cessna, Dassault and Hawker are other major business jet makers.

``All our long-range plans call for substantial growth in that area,'' said Bob Davis, Embraer's managing director and chief operating officer for executive jet services.

In the next 10 years, Teal Group forecasts production of 12,000 business jets worth more than $173 billion, a 63 percent increase compared with the period from 1997 to 2006. Teal and other industry observers attribute the good times for business jet makers mainly to healthy profits by corporations.

Air charter companies, fractional-ownership groups and private individuals also drive demand, which has traditionally come from inside the United States, but is growing increasingly international.

Within the universe of corporate owners, there's growing diversity -- the market is not dominated just by huge corporations such as General Electric, Aetna or United Technologies Corp.

``Most of the companies that are buying these are small and mid-size companies,'' said Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aircraft Association, which represents 8,000 corporate aircraft users, mainly in the U.S.

So far, Embraer has just one business jet model in service, the Legacy 600, a ``super mid-size'' aircraft with 10 to 13 seats that sells for about $25 million. Last year it delivered 27 units, up from 20 the year before.

By 2010, the company plans to introduce three new business jets, two in the Phenom series, four-to-six-passenger aircraft that will sell for $3 million to $6.65 million; and the Lineage 1000, a $41 million aircraft designed for trans-Atlantic travel that can seat 19.

The new Bradley facility is intended to serve Embraer owners in the Northeast, including a start-up air charter service company in Stamford that has ordered 50 Phenom 100s, Embraer said.

Embraer, which claims a strong customer base in the Northeast, chose Bradley for its central location between Boston and New York and for Connecticut's reliable local supply of aviation workers, it said. Through the Connecticut Development Authority, the state has agreed to issue $12 million in bonds for the Embraer project, all of which would be paid back by the company.

Bombardier's Scavotto, who said there are no immediate plans to expand his company's facilities further, said Bradley's ability to remain open in weather that would close larger Northeastern airports also makes it an attractive site for business.

Embraer's arrival isn't the only sign of the business jet boom at Bradley.

The airport has two Fixed Base Operators -- which sell gas, parking and other services to general aviation flyers, including business jet travelers -- that are also thriving.

TAC Air, which handles the charter flights that carry UConn basketball teams to away games, for example, said business has grown in each of the past three years, corresponding with the boom in jet sales. The company would not provide any data.

Signature Flight Support, the other FBO, did not return phone calls, but people who work at the airport every day say the company also appears busy.

Bradley does not track the number of business jet flights coming and going.

Airport officials cite the Embraer project as an example of the airport's role as a driver of economic development in the state, but say the focus remains commercial air travel. Bradley has no specific plan for expanding business jet services, said L. Scott Frantz, head of Bradley's board of directors.

``We don't want to become an executive jet airport,'' Frantz said.

Contact Eric Gershon at egershon@courant.com


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