All indications point to first flight of the Bombardier CSeries narrowbody by the end of this month, as the program’s flight test team completes final preparations for the milestone event following completion of ground vibration testing. Speaking with AIN on Saturday, before the start of the Paris Air Show, Bombardier Commercial Aircraft president Mike Arcamone reported that the flight test team had already been subjecting the first flight test vehicle (FTV1) to simulated flight conditions, while the company was also preparing a Global 5000 chaser airplane to evaluate flight conditions on the day of first flight.
“I would say that it’s all in the hands of the pilots,” said Arcamone, in reference to a decision on when to fly the airplane. “We think that we’re well within reach of a first flight by the end of the month.”
Now performing final systems installations on FTV2, Bombardier expects all five test airplanes to fly within about three months, said Arcamone. Meanwhile, the first production airplane has already started to take shape, as wing production progresses at Bombardier’s subsidiary in Belfast, Northern Ireland; workers at Shenyang Aircraft in China proceed with building the first production rear fuselage section; and cockpit preparations advance at Bombardier’s plant in St. Laurent, Quebec.
Bombardier has resolved issues surrounding its suppliers, Arcamone said during the March unveiling of FTV1 at Bombardier’s plant in Mirabel, Quebec. The company has perhaps seen the most notable improvement in Shenyang, now building fuselage sections at a rate of one per month. “They are now meeting and exceeding our quality standards even better than expected,” said Arcamone of Shenyang. “I know there was a lot of heartache surrounding Shenyang. But we have complete confidence in the capabilities of our Chinese partners.”
Expecting to finish building a new CSeries assembly plant in Mirabel next year, Bombardier has until this week remained quiet about production rate plans. However, Arcamone told AIN that he foresees Bombardier building 120 airplanes a year within the next three or four years.
Arcamone wouldn’t comment on the potential for sales here in Paris this week, but he did reiterate intentions to gather firm orders for at least 300 airplanes from 20 customers by the time of scheduled entry into service in the middle of next year. He also said he expects his sales force to easily collect firm orders for the 200th airplane by the end of this year and increase the customer base to as many as 18. Bombardier now holds firm orders for 177 CSeries airplanes, including the recent consummation of a conditional deal with Russia’s Ilyushin Finance Company for 32 of the larger of the pair of CSeries variants, the 135- to 160-seat CS300.
Notwithstanding earlier suggestions that the order distribution between the 110- to 135-seat CS100 and the CS300 had proved fairly balanced, Arcamone said that market interest has since shifted definitively toward the CS300, a 160-seat version of which Bombardier launched during the same event.
Latvia’s AirBaltic, which had placed a firm order late last year for 10 CS300s, has opted for a 148-seat version of the newly enlarged airplane, stretched two feet beyond its former design length of 125 feet to accommodate the extra capacity the company has specified. Originally meant to carry 130 passengers when configured with a 32-inch seat pitch, the CS300 now holds 135 seats in the same dual-class baseline layout.
In an interview with AIN following that announcement, CSeries program head Rob Dewar explained that Bombardier added the extra length to the center fuselage section, the only part of the CS300’s fuselage that doesn’t use part numbers common to the CS100. However, said Dewar, Bombardier also needed to apply some of the modifications needed for the CS300 to the 100- to 125-seat CS100, thereby contributing to its six-month delay.
Now scheduled for entry into service roughly a year after the CS100 reaches the market, the CS300 has drawn much more interest from low-fare airlines since its stretch, said Arcamone. “The market has really responded,” he said, in reference to the 160-seat CS300. “Several existing customers have looked at the denser configuration since we launched it.”