Firm claims Bombardier sold it a bad Learjet 60: Air charter firm Kestrel Holdings wants $6.9 million and damages. Bombardier says it's "lessee's remorse."

June 26, 2007

Jun. 26--Bombardier goes on trial today for making a lemon of a jet -- or so contends one unhappy customer who has been trying to gets its money back for five years.

The plaintiff is Kestrel Holdings, a Chicago air charter company that acquired a Learjet 60 in 2002 and is now suing for $6.9 million and punitive damages.

Since then, lawyers for both sides have generated thousands of pages of documents as the civil case worked its way through federal and now Sedgwick County District Court.

The two sides even disagree on whether Kestrel should be suing "Learjet" or "Bombardier Learjet," and whether Kestral owned the plane or leased it.

The trial is expected to run three weeks; more than 50 witnesses are scheduled.

Most of the documents in the case have been under seal. Those documents will become public during the trial.

The dispute in a nutshell: Kestrel contends that Learjet sold it a plane with deep-rooted problems that were never fixed and that Learjet hid those problems from it.

Bombardier's lawyers contend the plane was fine, after some initial repairs, and that Kestrel complained constantly because of "lessee's remorse."

The problem began in March 2001, when Kestrel ordered the plane for delivery in November.

As the delivery slipped by, Learjet salesmen made desperate promises to keep the contract. The plane was finally delivered in February 2002 and, according to Kestrel, broke the day it arrived.

"It flew from Tucson (Bombardier's finishing facility) to Chicago and the next day it was grounded with a hydraulic leak," said Kestrel lawyer Bernie Rhodes. "That was the first of months of problems."

But the biggest problem, Kestrel contends, was electrical.

A large group of Learjet 60s, including its own, suffered from electrical problems because the jets' metal parts weren't properly bonded.

During one flight, Kestrel lawyers said in the pretrial conference order, the instrument panel went blank. At other times, flight indicators would flash error messages and the auto pilot went astray.

After discovering the electrical problems, Kestrel tried to cancel the purchase, but Learjet said it was too late and that it would be handled through the warranty.

Learjet attorneys reject this version events.

To them, the plane was not defective. Learjet was already aware of the electrical bond issue on its Learjet 60s and says it fixed the problem before Kestrel took possession. After delivery, Kestrel complained and Learjet fixed several problems, finishing all repairs by September 2002.

Ron Sprague, an attorney representing Learjet, said the electrical problems were never more than "annoying."

"This aircraft did not ever have a safety-of-flight problem associated with electrical bonding that ever put passengers at risk," Sprague said.

Learjet's lawyers say in court documents that the sharp downturn in the charter market after Sept. 11, 2001, may have contributed to Kestrel's increasing unhappiness with the plane.

Even so, after repairs, Learjet's attorney said, Kestrel flew the plane for nearly 1,000 hours in four years, selling it in May 2006.

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or []

To see more of The Wichita Eagle, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2007, The Wichita Eagle, Kan. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

News stories provided by third parties are not edited by "Site Publication" staff. For suggestions and comments, please click the Contact link at the bottom of this page.