Pilots, overall, gave the Challenger 300's Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 cockpit and avionics suite high marks. The instrument panel has four, portrait configuration, 12- by-10-in. flat-panel displays. The outer two screens are PFDs, while the inner pair function as navigation and EICAS displays. Features include systems synoptic diagrams and electronic checklists. FMS programming is straightforward, embracing user interface conventions favored by many airline pilots. Flight department managers also said avionics reliability is top notch.
But pilots said that the autopilot tends to wander in pitch when climbing while using the flight level change mode. They prefer to use the vertical speed mode because it's more comfortable for passengers.
They also say that when flying the aircraft by hand it has a somewhat numb on-center pitch and roll feel, plus rather heavy roll control forces. It handles more like a large-cabin Challenger 604 than a midsize Learjet, they say.
Flight crews also note that, prior to starting the APU before engine start, it's essential to power up the electrical system and let the avionics system run through the built-in tests, a hands-off period. It takes a few moments for the system to prepare itself for pilot inputs. Start tapping too soon and the BIT check may fail, thereby requiring a shutdown and reboot.
Operators credit Bombardier's customer service with marked improvement since the Challenger 300 made its debut. But they also say parts support still isn't yet to the high standard set by Gulfstream.
They also say that while Bombardier has upped its spec BOW for the aircraft to 23,850 lb., that's still not representative of most typically equipped aircraft, especially ones flown on transatlantic missions or between North and South America. And thanks to the Challenger 300's operating economics versus large-cabin aircraft, that represents an ever-growing number. The BOWs for aircraft equipped for international missions typically range between 24,400 and 24,800 lb., particularly if they're fitted with deluxe forward galleys and the hefty weight, backup hydraulically driven motor generator.
Operators also say Bombardier needs to offer an alternative progressive maintenance inspection program that would allow them to break up large maintenance tasks into small chunks that mostly could be accomplished during overnight layovers.
Looming Super Midsize Competition
When the Challenger 300 entered service in early 2004, Bombardier faced little competition in the super-midsize class. The Hawker 4000 (nee Horizon) program was mired in problems and the Gulfstream 200 (nee Galaxy, nee Astra IV) was hamstrung by its anemic airport and climb performance. Bombardier owned the niche and Challenger 300 deliveries soared.
But now two strong competitors are emerging. The 3,600-nm range Gulfstream 280 overcomes virtually all the deficiencies of its G200 predecessor. Recently certified, that aircraft has the strongest performance in the super-midsize class, along with the largest cabin and aft baggage compartment, the most range and the best fuel efficiency.