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.
Another industry source hints at the difficulty of gaining Western authorities' approval of Chinese-developed and -produced large subassemblies or sections. Obtaining such approval is easier if production is transferred to foreign suppliers at a later stage, with the initial batch of aircraft being produced at home—Montreal in this case. “China has great difficulty in introducing the right procedures and documentation,” the executive says. Potential rework would be “very time-consuming.”
Xian Aircraft builds A320-family outer wing boxes to what Airbus calls a high standard, but did not begin doing so until Airbus had been building them for more than 10 years, and at first Xian did not make the complete assemblies. Similarly, SAC supplies wing parts for the A320 and A330 family.
As for Bombardier's involvement with China, the goal has been broader than merely finding cost-efficient and skilled suppliers. Like many other manufacturers, Bombardier sees China as a huge market. According to its latest forecast, Chinese airlines will buy 2,220 aircraft seating up to 149 passengers in the next 20 years—about the same as Europe, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States combined. Only North America is still a much larger market (4,700 units).
As a result of that assessment, Bombardier has gone much further than any other commercial-aircraft integrator in its China exposure. That approach is aided by Chinese government funding. Around $400 million in Chinese public money is believed to be invested in the CSeries project, but that money will flow only through the work shares of state-owned suppliers. Bombardier is also forming close links with Chinese manufacturer Comac, which is developing its C919 narrowbody airliner. The two companies want to achieve a common cockpit design for the C919 and the CSeries and plan to cooperate in other areas. There have even been suggestions that China might look at buying Bombardier Aerospace outright, although that has not yet materialized. c
Jens Flottau Frankfurt and Bradley Perrett Beijing