John Strickland, head of JLS Consulting, says it is difficult to imagine carriers such as EasyJet being attracted to the 160-seat CSeries option. He argues that Europe's second-largest low-fare airline already wants an average aircraft size closer to 180 seats, which would not be easy to achieve with a sub-fleet of 160-seaters. EasyJet operates the A319, its smallest type, in a 156-seat layout, close to the maximum of the CS300, but with a more comfortable seat pitch. It is evaluating the A320NEO, 737 MAX and CSeries for a large order.
Vueling, the Spanish low-fare airline, is another key European target, as CEO Alex Cruz is interested in the 160-seat option. But Strickland says any decision on a new aircraft type will depend on the outcome of the International Airlines Group (IAG) bid to take over Vueling. If the airline was to be integrated into IAG, parent of British Airways and Iberia, it could be allocated more flying on secondary routes for which the CS300 would be more suitable than a larger aircraft.
Even Air Baltic, which has been highly supportive of the idea of making the CS300 larger, plans to install only 145 seats initially, at 30-in. pitch, but it could change to the higher density later, if its business model warrants. CEO Martin Gauss says the longer fuselage is not a concern because Bombardier has committed to keeping the gross weight essentially unchanged. Despite the stretch, the aircraft still maintains a 5-ton weight advantage over the A319, he says.
Mike Arcamone, president of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, says that the company remains focused on its original 100-149-seat market, and the 160-seat option is simply an “optimization” of the aircraft.
The extra capacity reduces cash operating cost by 8%, and Bombardier hopes to persuade airlines that flying a CS300 full is less expensive than flying a larger Airbus or Boeing at less than full capacity. “The 160-seat CSeries will have the same seat-mile cost as a 180-seat aircraft, so if the airline cannot fill a larger aircraft, it can still operate at the same cost advantage,” says Rob Dewar, vice president and general manager for the CSeries.
The aircraft can be ordered with the extra exits installed, or they can be retrofitted later to increase capacity, as structural provisions will be standard in all CS300s.
Modification of the CS300 design, and its knock-on impact on the CS100 because of commonality, was partially responsible for delays that forced Bombardier to push first flight back by six months from December, Dewar says. Following the “re-harmonization” of supplier delivery schedules, he says the program is tracking to a plan that requires delivery of one CSeries a month to support an “aggressive” 12-month flight-test effort leading to Transport Canada certification of the CS100 in mid-2014. First flight of the CS300 is now scheduled for early 2014, aiming for certification by the end of the year.
Three of the five CS100 flight-test aircraft are nearing completion at Mirabel, near Montreal; the fuselage barrel for the fourth has been delivered to Mirabel by SAC Commercial Aircraft, based in Shenyang, China; and the cockpit for the fifth is being prepared for delivery from Bombardier's plant in St. Laurent, Quebec. SAC was blamed for some of the program delays, but it is now producing fuselage barrels at a rate of one a month, Arcamone says, adding that “component quality is excellent, and they are meeting their delivery schedule.”
The first CSeries is expected to be handed over for flight-testing by the end of the month. The complete-airframe structural test article, meanwhile, has completed its first two tasks: a pressure test and the wing maximum bending test, which simulates a gust upload to 115% of design load, the most the carbon-fiber wing is expected to see in service. The tip deflected 5 ft., which is within predictions, Dewar says. The fly-by-wire control system is “tracking to plan,” he says, and the integrated aircraft systems test rig and engineering simulator are engaged in safety-of-flight testing in support of first flight.
By the standards of A320NEO and 737 MAX sales, 300 firm orders from 20 airlines by entry into service is a relatively modest target, but, five years after its launch, the CSeries order book now stands at 148 aircraft for 13 customers. That total is expected to reach 180 at the end of this month, when the shareholders in Russian lessor Ilyushin Finance will be asked to approve a firm order for 32.