And the company says “it is very common for Bombardier to manufacture the initial shipsets of the more complex work packages of its new aircraft programs. The intention is to share best practices with suppliers while allowing them additional time to ramp up toward volume production.” That approach has always been “in the plan,” says Bombardier. As far as the temporary shift to Western suppliers is concerned, the company states: “There are cases where third-party suppliers overlap work packages, but this is not a reallocated work package.” SAC's mandate “has not changed.”
As to when work will be moved to SAC, Bombardier says: “There is no final date; it's a progressive transfer following the initial shipset production.”
However, industry sources are expressing serious doubts that the overall situation is as unremarkable as Bombardier claims. One executive, who was briefed recently by Bombardier on the status, says that in his observation the production process for the CSeries prototypes is far less advanced than that of the Airbus A350; the program's first flight-test aircraft is scheduled to enter final assembly this month. But the latest Airbus model is slated to fly around half a year later than the CSeries.
One executive says that final assembly of the first unit of a new aircraft should start at least around one year ahead of first flight. The CSeries has not yet reached that milestone. Power-on for the first flying aircraft in any particular program should be reached three to four months ahead of first flight, he notes. The CSeries would therefore have to be at that milestone by September at the latest.
Chinese engineers encountered problems with CSeries manufacturing, but perhaps no more than the usual difficulties that can be expected in a new program, says one industry official in China.
SAC is mainly a combat-aircraft builder and has given some of its CSeries work to its civil offshoot, SACC (Avic SAC Commercial Aircraft Co.), which receives detail parts from SAC and builds the major assemblies for export to Canada. Reviewing the SACC business, President Pang Zhan spoke this year of such challenges as meeting the ever-higher-quality demands of customers, and said his answer was to specialize. The company could not bring together the resources to properly build all parts of an aircraft, he said; so in developing its business, SACC was concentrating on tail sections, doors and engine mountings—a much narrower range of work than what it is doing on the CSeries.
A representative of SAC referred Aviation Week to Bombardier.
One source with knowledge of the situation says it is “shocking that Bombardier has watched [problems unfold in China] and done nothing about it for so long.”
The contracts with Shenyang were announced in 2008 at Farnborough, two days after the formal launch of the program. In August 2009, Shenyang delivered a 23-ft. test fuselage barrel to Bombardier's Saint Laurent plant in Montreal. SAC started construction of the facility in which fuselage sections were to be built in March 2010. Less than two years ago, Bombardier is understood to have contacted suppliers such as Aernnova about stepping in temporarily to build some components. Aernnova delivered the first center wing box to Bombardier in January.
One executive sees the cause of the problem in Bombardier's supply-chain management. SAC could not handle well enough the manufacturer's design tools that are challenging even when using Western data systems with no language barrier involved, he says.