June 25, 2012
Credit: Photo Credit: Bombardier
Bombardier has long kept silent about the progress made in its CSeries development program. Just weeks ahead of this year's Farnborough air show, though, the manufacturer is reassuring the industry that everything is fine and it will clear its hurdles. One of the manufacturer's biggest challenges still looms: strengthening the orderbook.
The first new entrant into the traditional Airbus/Boeing narrowbody segment, Bombardier will be followed by the Russian Irkut MS-21 and Chinese Comac C919 in subsequent years. With CRJ sales dwindling, the CSeries is in a must-win situation. Bombardier says it plans to deliver the smaller version of the family, the 110-seat CS100, by the end of next year, followed by the 149-seat CS300 a year later. The aircraft will compete with the larger versions of Embraer's E-Jets—as well as the 737 MAX and the A320NEO families, which are planned to enter the market in 2016 and 2015, respectively.
A year and a half ahead of the first CSeries delivery, there is little margin for error left, but Bombardier is adamant that the development process is under control. That assessment has been echoed by suppliers and customers. An executive at a major CSeries customer says that from today's point of view, the program may slip by a couple of months, but he does not anticipate anything like the delays in the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 start-up phases.
Bombardier admits that some CSeries suppliers have had “more challenges” in delivering components on time. “We are currently working with suppliers to find the challenges,” says Commercial Aircraft President Mike Arcamone. “We have allocated the right amount of resources to address that; we have mitigation plans in place.” He declines to identify the exact issues or suppliers affected.
Industry executives say the problems relate to three suppliers that are late in developing software that needs to be linked later to the aircraft's main flight management system. According to one, while the software issues have led to a three-month delay, Bombardier is slowly gaining back ground lost and is actually reducing the additional development time. Another official says there is some margin later in the flight-test program that could provide more opportunities to save time.
Arcamone also is not naming a date for first flight, which has been scheduled for the end of 2012, saying only, “we want to fly into the new year.” He stresses that the most important milestones are first deliveries of the CS100 and CS300. “We work margins every hour, every day. We are working toward the milestones. With the information I have now, we are on track,” Arcamone says.
Bank of America aerospace analyst Ronald Epstein is skeptical that the schedule will be met. “We get the sense that Bombardier is trying to shift the focus away from its first flight deadline to its first delivery deadline,” he says.