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Canadair Builds on Success With New Commuter Planes

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CANADAIR is stretching its success.

The Montreal-based aircraft manufacturer has taken its bestselling Challenger executive jet and has transformed it into two more products. And it is planning a third.

The reason is simple: Making a new plane from an existing airframe - known as "stretching" the plane - means lower research and development costs and a shorter waiting period for certification from agencies such as the United States Federal Aviation Administration.

"They can make a new aircraft for a minimum investment," says John Rider, an analyst with the investment firm of Richardson Greenshields in Montreal.

The latest version of the Challenger design, the Regional Jet, is a 50-seat plane aimed at the commuter airline market. Canadair displayed the jet at the recent air show in Farnborough, Britain.

Canadair is a division of Bombardier Inc. of Montreal, the transportation conglomerate that got started making snowmobiles and now manufactures New York City subway cars and aircraft at plants in Montreal, Toronto, and Belfast.

The Regional Jet fills a niche between the small 35- to 50-seat turboprop and the larger 100-seat passenger jet. The plane will allow airlines to serve smaller airports, bypassing hubs and making direct connections. Luftthansa City Line, a German commuter airline, is taking delivery of 13 planes this year. Comair, a regional carrier out of Cincinnati, will receive 20 aircraft next year.

Now Canadair is going to rework the design one more time. The company is spending $1 billion to develop a plane it calls Global Express. The plane, designed for the globe-trotting chief executive, will be able to fly nonstop from Los Angeles to Tokyo or Tokyo to London. It will offer such luxuries as a full-sized bed and a shower. The company already has 30 deposits on the Global Express.

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