Bombardier debuts upgraded CRJ900

 - July 5, 2007, 5:56 AM

Bombardier Aerospace unveiled a series of updates to its CRJ900 regional jet during a June 5 event at the Signature Flight Support FBO at Washington Dulles International Airport. The 76-seat CRJ900 NextGen on display there became the first to enter revenue service on June 7, when Northwest Airlines subsidiary Mesaba Airlines flew it to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport from Minneapolis.

Bombardier plans to convert the CRJ700/900 production line to the NextGen platform this year. Any airlines placing orders now for those CRJs or the newly launched 100-seat CRJ1000 will automatically receive the NextGen version. NextGen prices range slightly higher, about $250,000 more for the CRJ700 and $300,000 more for the CRJ900.

For regional airlines, said Rodney Williams, vice president for commercial operations, the NextGen CRJ “will launch another wave of economic enhancement.” The NextGen CRJs, he added, “have substantially lower seat-mile costs than [competing] Embraer regional jets.” For passengers, however, “the cornerstone in terms of changes is the interior.”

Mesaba’s CRJ900 NextGen features a new business/first-class configuration with a single seat on the left side and dual seats on the right for a total of 12 seats. The 64 economy seats, clad in the same leather as the first-class seats, offer 31-inch seat pitch. All the seats, made by C&D Zodiac, offer adjustable headrests that move vertically and bend inward on each side. New LED passenger and wash lighting should last the life of the airplane without bulb replacement.

Overhead storage bins can now fit 21 percent more roller bags than the original CRJ900 (and 27 percent more in the CRJ700), without reducing passenger headroom. The left single-seat side of the first-class compartment features smaller overhead storage bins with latchable sliding doors large enough for briefcases and other light luggage.

Passengers should appreciate the larger cabin windows, with new cutouts increasing window height to 15.8 inches from 13.8 inches.

More of that window is available for clear viewing, too, as Bombardier designers engineered a notch into the cabin sidewall above the windows that accommodates the entire window shade handle so the shade doesn’t cover the top of the glass as on most airliners. The change results in a 24-percent increase in window viewing area.

Minor Airframe Modifications
While passengers care about comfort, most care as much about the
cost of flying, and the NextGen CRJs offer lower seat-mile costs than their predecessors, claims Bombardier. In the interest of cost and production-line efficiency, the company has made no major structural changes to the CRJ700 and -900 airframe, according to Williams. “We design as much for manufacturing as possible,” he said.

Bombardier engineers have changed some more minor aspects of the airframe design, however, including removing provisions for an aft service door on the -900, something that no operator ever ordered, and new composite flaps and vanes.
Bombardier’s manufacturing plant in Belfast, Northern Ireland, makes the new composite parts using the resin-transfer molding (RTM) process, which is new to the aerospace industry but has long been used in boat manufacturing. The RTM process involves injecting with resin a mold of the part containing composite fiber. The mold can be spun to ensure even distribution of the resin, thus delivering consistently shaped parts embedded with the optimal amount of resin.

The CRJ900’s composite flaps don’t weigh less, Williams said, and don’t differ dimensionally from the metal flaps. Making large changes in weight and configuration would have required additional certification and flight testing, which would have raised costs.

The Belfast facility will likely make more CRJ parts using RTM, he added.
Fuel burn and airframe direct maintenance costs have come down by 4 and 9 percent respectively on both the NextGen CRJ700 and -900. The reduction in fuel consumption results from ongoing flight testing, a new cruise control manual, new landing flap settings and, on the -900, a conical engine nozzle. Bombardier already installed the same style of nozzle on the earlier-generation CRJ700.

A-check intervals increase by 200 hours, to 600 from 400, and C-checks lengthen to 6,000 hours from 4,000, which accounts for much of the maintenance cost savings. Bombardier will continue to look at reducing man-hour requirements for individual maintenance tasks, Williams said. The company has also targeted for elimination or realignment out-of-phase tasks that add unnecessary labor hours between regular inspections.

As part of Bombardier’s ongoing weight-reduction program, a new paint process at the Mirabel manufacturing plant near Montreal adds less paint weight to
the NextGen CRJs. A new pre-paint anti-corrosion treatment also helped with the NextGen weight reduction.

An avionics update will help airlines maximize efficiency; the Mesaba NextGen CRJ features autopilot-coupled Vnav, which allows FMS flight plans to manage altitude so airlines can optimize flight profiles to minimize fuel burn.

Airlines that already own CRJ700s and -900s could buy retrofits of some of the NextGen fuel-burn reduction features but, said Williams, “I would not expect an airline to retrofit the interior [to the NextGen configuration].”

Mesaba’s second NextGen CRJ900 went on display at last month’s Paris Air Show. The backlog for the new CRJ700 totals three airplanes, and for the CRJ900 it
has reached 75 airplanes, according to first-quarter figures provided by Bombardier. Three customers have ordered a total of 38 CRJ1000s, including France’s Brit Air (eight), Italy’s My Way (15) and an undisclosed customer (15).

In addition to Mesaba, airlines that have ordered the CRJ900 (most of which will henceforth be NextGens as the remaining last-generation -900s roll out this year) include Air Nostrum, Air One, Delta Connection, Lufthansa CityLine, Mesa and SkyWest.