Bombardier CRJ1000s Back in the Air

 - February 25, 2010, 11:06 AM

Flight testing of Bombardier’s new CRJ1000 resumed on February 13, when S/N 19991 took to the air from the company’s Wichita flight-test center, some five months after a second software “glitch” associated with the airplane’s control-by-wire rudder system grounded the program’s two prototypes.

Now flying both of the airplanes from Wichita, Bombardier suffered perhaps another six-week setback since company COO Guy Hachey established a somewhat vague target to resume flying during the company’s third-quarter earnings call last December. At the time, Hachey had said that the company planned to resume flying its pair of CRJ1000 test articles “shortly after Christmas.” All told, the software problems have cost the program roughly a one-year delay.

Bombardier vice president of commercial aircraft programs Ben Boehm told AIN there remains between 200 and 300 hours of total flying to do before the program finishes certification trials. “[The airplanes] will obviously still do a little bit of work at Wichita,” said Boehm. “We’ll continue with work on field performance down in Roswell, [N.M.]” Following the Roswell tests, Bombardier plans to perform hot-weather testing in the southern U.S., most likely in Yuma or Phoenix, said Boehm, then do cold-soak testing in Alberta or Manitoba, Canada. “This stuff tracks the weather, and thanks to it being winter, we don’t need to go that far north [for cold weather testing],” said Boehm.

Although the program still needs to complete roughly 30 percent of its testing regime, the additional delay did not force Bombardier to shift the rather generous half-year timeframe it allowed itself for certification. Because Bombardier’s fiscal year ends January 31, its second-half target gives it until early next year to certify the airplane and deliver the first example to one of two possible launch customers–France’s Brit Air or Spain’s Air Nostrum. 

“We’re talking with both of them,” said Boehm. “And I’d rather not say [which will take the first airplane] until both of them are satisfied with what we’re doing.” Boehm also hedged somewhat on the question of late-delivery penalties. “We’ve been in relatively constant communication with both carriers; both are satisfied with what our situation is and where we’re going,” he said. “Tthey’re not happy with the delay, but they are understanding and we’re all on good terms.” 

The original software problem, first revealed early last summer, delayed planned certification from late last year to this year’s first fiscal quarter. “At the time we thought we had found the root cause, we did put some fixes in place and we experienced another one almost a month and a half later [at the end of August] similar to the one we had earlier,” said Hachey.

“Obviously we did not get the root cause [at that time],” he added. “At that point we put together our most seasoned people outside of the program for external help to make a full assessment of the problem, and we have determined the root cause,” Hachey said in December.

Boehm, however, noted that although all the ground simulation appears to have confirmed the efficacy of the software changes, no one can know for sure until the airplanes validate the fix during flight trials. “Right now we want to focus on the robustness of the software, make sure we truly have captured what we think the problems were, then we’re going to refocus back on the flight testing and get our schedule on track and get our customers the airplanes they want.”

Until then, Bombardier won’t even know whether or not the two software glitches emanated from the same source. “You know, in flight testing, it’s hard to say, ‘Were they the same source?,’” said Boehm. “I’d rather simply just say that it was related in with the software, and by the second time we realized that this was something that we needed to [take care of]. We want to make sure that we’re building a great product, a reliable product, a safe product. From that standpoint, that’s where we took that step back and realized the software needed some work.”