July 06, 2012
Bombardier Aerospace has temporarily reassigned responsibility for key components and work packages of its CSeries contracted to Chinese partner Shenyang Aircraft Corp. (SAC).
When Bombardier established the manufacturing system for its new 110- to 149-seat jet family, it allocated development and production of three fuselage sections—forward, center and rear—plus the empennage to SAC. It also charged the Chinese supplier with building the tail cone and wing-body fairing and center wing box.
But that work allocation has changed. Bombardier, at least temporarily, has taken fuselage assembly to Montreal, although the components are still being built in Shenyang. Industry sources also say that several of the work packages previously allocated to SAC have been temporarily transferred to Western suppliers. Spanish aerostructures specialist Aernnova confirms it has a contract with Bombardier to deliver 40 center wing boxes and tail cones for the CSeries before the work is shifted back to China. It is unclear how many sets of fuselage sections will be built in Montreal, but one aerospace executive claims about 10 aircraft could be affected.
While industry executives close to the CSeries are not saying the program is in jeopardy, it is clear that Bombardier has been forced to react to unexpected problems in airframe manufacturing. Several questions arise from the reallocation: Will the CSeries development and production schedule be affected? What will the program’s longer-term industrial set-up look like? And what does the process say about the readiness of the Chinese aerospace industry to become an increasingly important part of the global supply chain?
Bombardier says the published schedule will not change. The first CS100 is planned to fly by the end of the year, with final assembly starting in the coming weeks. The fatigue test aircraft is expected to be ready by September. The manufacturer plans to deliver the first CS100 to a yet-unidentified first operator by the end of 2013. That would still be within the range originally suggested when Bombardier formally launched the CSeries four years ago on the eve of the 2008 Farnborough Air Show.
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 the same suppliers additional time to ramp up toward volume production.” That approach has always been “in the plan,” according to Bombardier. As for the temporary shift to Western suppliers, Bombardier states, “There are cases were third-party suppliers overlap work packages, but this is not a reallocated work package.” The company adds that SAC’s mandate “has not changed.”
As to when work will be moved to SAC, Bombardier says, “Here 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 says. One aerospace executive, who was recently briefed on the status by Bombardier, says that the production process for the CSeries prototypes is far less advanced than that of the Airbus A350, the first flight test aircraft of which is scheduled to enter final assembly this month. But the latest Airbus model is scheduled to fly about half a year later than the CSeries.