Fresh maintenance and superb equipment make this a Can’t Miss Challenger 300 to buy; its pedigree makes it The Challenger 300 to own. What’s more – US based Shearwater Air can continue to manage and charter this aircraft for the new owner – from day one.
I was in Tucson to meet up with the team from Shearwater Air. Based in Hillsboro Oregon, Shearwater operates two corporate jets, a Gulfstream 550 and a Bombardier Challenger 300. The Challenger had just completed its 96-month maintenance inspection at Bombardier’s service center and I was on site to fly back to Hillsboro and experience the Challenger live.
I had the chance to get up close and personal with the aircraft. At first glance, this Challenger is very impressive. Shearwater bought it new from Bombardier in 2005 and it has served them well for the past 8 years. With just 2000 hours of total flight time, or 250 hours of annual utilization, this aircraft has much lower time than average for its age.
The recent maintenance was comprehensive. Mike Boehme, explained, “The 96 month inspection requires the manufacturer to open every inspection panel on the aircraft to give the airframe a thorough, detailed inspection. All of the aircraft’s systems are inspected and updated. Repairs are made where needed and the aircraft is brought back to as close to “brand new” as you could reasonably expect”. Shearwater also took the opportunity complete all outstanding Bombardier MAX reliability upgrades.
In addition to the 96 month inspection, Bombardier completely overhauled the landing gear and worked with the engine manufacturer to replace the combustion liners in the hottest section of the aircraft’s power plants. They also repaired all interior blemishes and exterior paint imperfections. Airframe, engines and landing gear completely brought back to specification and good for another 8 years.
And while Bombardier completed the work, it was all done under the watchful eye of Mike Boehme, Shearwater’s Director of Maintenance who camped out in one of Bombardier’s customer offices for the duration. Mike’s watchful eye has contributed the outstanding reliability of the aircraft. “Reliability is the #1 condition for our owner, and the #1 condition to run our charter business” said Boehme, “So that’s how we maintain the aircraft.”
Working closely with his team was Shearwater’s Director of Operations – Dave Hamilton. Dave surveyed the aircraft closely, inspecting the workmanship of the Bombardier team. He entered the passenger cabin and promptly sat down in one of the passenger seats. His eyes quickly found a minor imperfection in the headliners and brought it to the attention of the Bombardier technician. His point: it simply wasn’t something a passenger should see, and it spoke volumes as to how well this aircraft is maintained.
Dave and I sat down later to talk about the aircraft and the Shearwater operation. Dave spoke about their decision to have the Shearwater aircraft certified under the FAA’s Part 135 standards. “It took us close to 2 ½ years to get through the process and it completely re-shaped the way we conducted business at our flight department,” Hamilton explained. The standards from an operational process, maintenance and management standpoint are some of the highest in the industry. The 300 has been maintained and operated to these exacting standards ever since the FAA granted their Part 135 certification.
Being certified allows Shearwater to operate as an on-demand charter service and build an additional revenue stream to offset expenses when the aircraft would otherwise sit idle. They routinely charter the aircraft on trips from the West Coast to Hawaii, as well as inside the contiguous US. The aircraft is equipped to fly not only domestically, but also overseas – In fact, the aircraft has all necessary equipment for extended overwater operations.
During our conversation, Hamilton and I discussed the fact the aircraft is for sale. “We acquired the Gulfstream with specific missions in mind so the Challenger has become surplus to us. We do have the ability to sell this aircraft to someone and continue to manage it so that they can charter out the aircraft as we have done in the past.” And what a deal that would be – it’s only 8 years old, has very low time, a single owner and is in immaculate condition.
The next morning we departed Tucson for the aircraft’s base in Oregon. It was a gorgeous clear day in the Arizona desert and the airplane had been pushed outside, fueled and was ready to go. Jeff Armbruster, Shearwater’s Chief Pilot, was already in the cockpit getting the flight deck set up for the flight. Armbruster would fly the right seat today with Dave Hamilton occupying the left seat.
Part of Armbruster’s pre-flight work was to test the impressive array of cockpit equipment that this aircraft has available. State of the art flight management systems, traffic collision systems, advanced navigation and autopilot functionality, advanced weather detection systems including live radar, lightning detection and even an XM Radio weather feed (for those live radar snapshots you see on the Weather Channel – but now in the cockpit). Both Armbruster and Hamilton spent years flying for various airlines before they moved over to corporate flying. They both readily admit that airliner equipment pales in comparison to what this Challenger 300 has up front.
After checking the aircraft out, and with Boehme satisfied that the repairs had been completed, we were ready to go. Doors were closed quickly and engines started up quietly, smoothly, and without delay. Literally within a few short minutes, we were taxiing out for departure on Tucson’s runway 11 Right.
The takeoff roll was smooth and remarkably quiet. Acceleration was brisk and we were quickly climbing into the clear desert air. On typical days the rising warm air from the desert floor causes some instability in the air resulting in a few bumps. Today was no exception but the Challenger just brushed them off. The climb out was smooth and in a matter of 15 minutes we were above the majority of traffic and weather at 43,000 feet. Crystal blue skies were visible outside with that slight curve of the earth’s horizon that comes with flying that high.
The Challenger’s cabin is beautifully appointed. There is incredibly comfortable seating for 9 people. The seats are arranged in a way that naturally divides the cabin into two sections (Great for small adhoc meetings or privacy). Passengers can select seats with huge legroom or curl up on the couch (divan). Headroom is impressive and an aft lavatory allows for complete privacy. Most of all, the cabin is quiet. Conversations were easy to have without the need for a raised voice.
Need entertainment? The cabin features dual DVD players, selectable from the seat. A moving map shows the current status and the progress of the flight, complete with arrival times and weather at the destination. IPad connectivity is also available.
What impressed me the most was my ability to work and stay connected from the aircraft. The Challenger has a GoGo Biz Wi-Fi that allowed me to stay online throughout the flight. The Iridium Flight Phone allows passengers or crew to call or conference anyone while in the air. I personally took huge advantage of the wireless and even connected for a quick Facebook chat with my daughter. This is an environment perfectly suited for getting business done and even catching up on those personal details that always need attention.
Its easy to see why the Challenger 300 has been such a successful product. The combination of cabin size, low operating cost and maintainability have made it the super mid-size class leader. The pre-owned market is offering exceptional value and there has never been a better time to step up into this cabin class aircraft.
With fresh maintenance, low time, and an exceptional pedigree courtesy of the team at Shearwater Air, s/n 20059 belongs on every prospective buyer’s short list.