The key to Bombardier’s still-pending decision on whether to go ahead with a $2 billion-plus investment in its projected C Series 110/130-seat regional airliner family appears to rest with the engine manufacturers.
Gary Scott, president of aircraft services and new commercial aircraft, said in one of a series of pre-show briefings given by Bombardier in Belfast last month that since the company pulled back the C Series development throttles at the beginning of last year it had made substantial progress in evolving the design. But the additional improvement promised by the new engines that should be available in 2013 is too great to pass up, and that has become the new target date for service entry.
“It’s key that the new family has to be a game-changer,” Scott said. “It cannot be a me-too product; we cannot come to the dance with what’s already available; we have to come with something that’s very new.”
The first essential is a family of airplanes. “You can’t come out with an orphan product,” Scott said, listing the main elements of the C Series program mandate. The environment is a focus, as are life-cycle cost over 30-plus years, “15 percent better economics than what’s available today,” passenger appeal and operational flexibility.
It also has to be “highly reliable out of the box,” Scott said. “One of the interesting conversations I have with airlines that have been launch customers in the past is they really like the good prices they get being launch customers but they don’t necessarily like having to break the airplane in for the OEM. So the price of entry these days is to have an airplane that’s 99 percent reliable right out of the box.”
According to Michael MacAdoo, vice president strategy and business development, Bombardier’s latest market forecast indicates that of the 11,200 aircraft with 20 to 149 seats expected to be delivered over the next 20 years, 5,900 will have between 100 and 149 seats. “Our mandate is producing this game-changing airplane for the lower half of that 5,900-airplane market,” Scott said.
Since January 2006, an increase in the proportion of composite materials and right-sizing the fuselage and wing has reduced the airplane’s weight by 2,500 pounds, equivalent to a 3-percent saving in empty operating weight.
“We’ve been able to generate four percent additional savings on the fuel burn and six percent savings on the maximum takeoff weight. So the airplane has improved substantially. But we realized about a year ago that the new engine technologies that are coming on the market are going to be available in 2013, and even though we had a great new engine at the time, it was going to be hard for us to pass up the incremental benefit that was going to be available.”
The proportion of composites has increased from 20 to 46 percent, largely because of the decision to use a composite wing. An aluminum-lithium fuselage is still part of the baseline configuration, though. “When you look at the operating environment for a 110- to 130-seater with six or eight cycles a day, and you look at the potential for ramp rash and the quick repairability that’s needed, the trade studies still come out in favor of aluminum-lithium as opposed to composites.”
Composite fuselages may be the new standard for larger aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, but those airplanes will cycle only a couple of times a day, Scott said, “and they don’t have equipment running to or away from them that often.” Boeing needed the weight savings provided by composites as compensation for the beefed-up structure required to maintain a 6,000-foot cabin pressure altitude. “They also wanted to fly from New York to Singapore,” Scott added. “So the trade studies still say aluminum lithium for us, but we’re still looking at that.”
Adding a new technology engine to the mix can save another 4 to 8 percent on fuel burn, Scott said. Compared with existing equipment, according to Scott, “what we had in January 2006 from a fuel burn standpoint was an airplane in the 110-seat range that was eight percent better. Since then we’ve added another four percent. And now with the advanced engines like Pratt’s new geared turbofan or what Rolls and CFM are looking at, we can add another five or six percent, picking the middle of that [four- to eight-percent] range. So we’re now 15 plus percent better on fuel burn, which is really game-changing.”
To support the 2013 in-service date, the engine choice will have to be made “no later than next year,” Scott said. The original choice had been made in 2005, after CFM said its contender would not be ready until 2013, which Bombardier considered too late. “IAE was prepared to provide engines but couldn’t commit to commercial terms, so we ended up with Pratt & Whitney Canada.” P&WC, Bombardier announced here at Le Bourget in June 2005, planned to extend the thrust range of an in-development powerplant to 23,000 pounds to support a 2010 service entry.
The shift to 2013, however, brings Pratt & Whitney Hartford’s geared turbofan and potential new offerings from Rolls-Royce and CFM into the picture, Scott said, “and we didn’t want to miss four- to eight-percent fuel burn improvement.” The selected engine will probably have a thrust of around 22,000 pounds to match the 110-seater’s 137,000-pound maximum takeoff weight.
The airplane’s wings will be built by Bombardier’s UK facilities in Belfast, along with the horizontal and vertical stabilizer and nacelle. The fuselage will be supplied by China’s Shenyang Aircraft Corp., and final assembly will be at Mirabel, near Montreal.
Scott does not see potential competition from short-fuselage versions of successors to the Boeing and Airbus single-aisle families as a major threat. “The 737-600 and A318 don’t work well, and we believe that will not change when Boeing and Airbus reinvent their products. As a matter of fact, we feel that they’re more likely to move up in size as opposed to down, so we still believe that this hole in the market that exists today will remain.”
The technology will be available to everybody, he added. “Boeing could build the airplane we’re talking about, Airbus could, they’re highly capable. Will they? We don’t believe so because in the past they haven’t shown that they will do that, and they’re not good at building small airplanes. A $400 billion market is huge for Bombardier, but it’s pretty small for Boeing and Airbus. There’s a market for bigger aircraft worth another two trillion, and I guess if I were Boeing or Airbus that’s where I’d invest my money.”
Has the program launch delay harmed Bombardier’s credibility? Quite the contrary, insisted Pierre Beaudoin, Bombardier Aerospace president and chief operating officer. “This is a decision where we would be in the market with the airplane for at least 20 years. So I don’t think it’s undermining our credibility. I think, on the contrary, we showed the maturity as a company to take the time to make the decision and to make sure that the market is right.”