Bombardier Breaks Ground for C Series

 - September 16, 2009, 10:49 AM

The future of Bombardier Aerospace’s commercial airline business might well hinge on what becomes of the final product that emerges from yesterday’s official ground breaking of a new complex in Mirabel, Canada, dedicated to the C Series airliner. The ceremony, held on September 15 and attended by some 200 company employees, government dignitaries, labor representatives and media, formally launched work on the first of five phases of construction known as the Complete Integrated Aircraft Systems Test Area (CIASTA)–a testing and proving facility that will house a “virtual” C Series test aircraft designed to assess systems for reliability and functionality a full year before the first prototype flies.

Hosting the ceremony, Bombardier Aerospace president and COO Guy Hachey called it a “red letter” day for the C Series program and, in understated fashion, an “important” day for Bombardier Aerospace. “Some of you might be surprised to see us investing so much in the area of commercial aviation,” said Hachey, referring to the roughly $3 billion the company has committed to the project. “But we must not be misled by the fits and starts of the economy. In the aerospace industry, we must work with timelines that cover the next 15 to 20 years. And, for the long term, the prospects for commercial aviation are extremely positive.”

Hachey even projected a somewhat positive outlook for the C Series sales prospects for the short term, predicting that the 110- to 145-seat aircraft would garner another sale this year after generating firm orders for 50 airplanes from two customers since it announced the development of the project to replace the stillborn BRJ-X in 2005. “We believe we are now at the bottom, and basically we’re bouncing off the bottom; it’s not going down either in the business aircraft or the commercial aircraft segment,” said Hachey. “But we expect in the next three or four quarters, maybe the next two or three quarters, things to start picking up.”

Launched on the strength of a letter of interest from Deutsche Lufthansa during the 2008 Farnborough Air Show, the C Series program has since drawn Lufthansa’s conversion to a firm order for 30 CS100s and another firm order for 17 CS300s and three CS100s from Dublin-based Lease Corporation International.

Notwithstanding the rather lukewarm sales response the C Series has so far generated, Bombardier Aerospace vice president of commercial aircraft programs Ben Boehm noted that the program has drawn as many sales as the Boeing 787 did at about the same period in its development. “When we first started into this segment, a lot of people said, ‘Well, you’re getting into the Bermuda triangle of airplanes,’” said Boehm. “But we keep reminding people that there are over 5,000 one-hundred- to 149-seaters that are out there flying today that most airlines love. At Northwest Airlines there are [DC-9] fuselages in there that are over 30 years old.”

However, new technology will allow the C Series to meet today’s environmental needs, as well as provide transcontinental range not available with DC-9s, for example. Meanwhile, the 110-seat CS100 will affect a 16- to 17-percent cash operating cost advantage over the Embraer 195, Airbus A318 or Boeing 737-600 with winglets, while a CS300 would do the same over an A319 or 737-700 with winglets, said Boehm. 

The Bombardier v-p said the program’s sales team is talking with roughly 150 potential customers, “some in more advanced stages in others; each of them looking at it in a different way,” for example, from the perspective of low-fare carriers, major airlines and even some regionals studying new business plans. 

The program moved into its joint definition phase in March, at which point Bombardier began co-locating suppliers with its product development team in Montreal. Bombardier has signed contracts and confirmed 98 percent of the suppliers for the C Series; some 1,000 Bombardier employees and another 350 supplier personnel now work together in the Montreal facility, according to Boehm.

In Mirabel, the CIASTA will house, among other things, the C Series Integrated Systems Test and Certification Rig (ISTCR), or so-called “iron bird.” Meant to facilitate early product maturity, the iron bird will test flight control systems, avionics, electrical and environmental controls. Other test articles planned for the building include and interiors rig, a sytems integration test stand (SITS) and engineering simulator and flight controls integration lab (FCIL).

Eventually, Bombardier plans to erect a complex of buildings, standing adjacent to the company’s existing CRJ assembly hall in Mirabel, that will total 860,000 sq ft in area. Bombardier has hired Weiland-Dafco Quebec and Ghafari Associates to build the CIASTA as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building–the first such structure for the company. LEED is a third-party certification program and an internationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of so-called “green” buildings. Making use of existing resources where possible, the contractors will reconstruct an existing fuel-flow building to build the CIASTA.