C Series launch target slides to 2013

 - March 7, 2007, 10:15 AM

Bombardier appears no closer to a decision about whether to launch or scrub the nascent C Series program after president and COO Pierre Beaudoin revealed on January 31 that the company has moved back its target date for certification by another three years. Now, if the program ever does materialize, it would enter service in 2013, said Beaudoin.

“The decision process related to the launch of an aircraft program with more than a 20-year lifespan takes time and requires a well defined business plan to ensure the program’s long-term success,” he said. “As we have previously confirmed, the C Series plan includes international partnerships, and discussions are progressing. We continue to see the lower end of the 100- to 149-seat market as a segment with a solid potential.”

Bombardier advertises the C Series, a proposed transcontinental-range twinjet with a five-abreast cabin, as a replacement for Douglas DC-9 and Fokker 100-category narrowbodies. Northwest Air- lines, in bankruptcy since September 2005, continues to fly 100 or so DC-9s, many of them approaching 40 years of age.

Bombardier hasn’t said whether its vacillation in any way corresponds with Northwest’s delay in deciding when and with what it plans to replace its DC-9s, but judging by prior statements it seems clear that the C Series cannot go forward without at least a comparable commitment, and preferably from two customers.

Whatever order bar Bombardier must clear, the decision lies not only with its own board, but with international risk-sharing partners Beaudoin said must join the program before it progresses beyond the mere study phase. Meanwhile, the proposed design continues to evolve, with more widespread use of composites in the wings and fuselage and a decision to wait, in essence, for further advances in engine technology from Pratt & Whitney and others.

As the technology stands today, the C Series can meet the 15-percent improvement in cost efficiency over that offered by equipment already on the market, according to Beaudoin. However, by 2013 competition in the 110- to 130-seat segment might well require Bombardier to do better than that. “Our discussions with potential customers have revealed the preference for a later entry into service if we were to provide substantially more operating cost savings,” he said.

Beaudoin said last month’s launch of the 100-seat CRJ1000 would not affect the C Series program. “They are two very different markets,” he stressed. A much heavier design than the CRJ1000, the C Series would appeal exclusively to major and low-fare airlines. The narrower tube that characterizes all the CRJ models, including the CRJ1000, limits their appeal primarily to regional carriers.