Bombardier rethinks the way it outfits aircraft

 - October 2, 2007, 11:12 AM

To demonstrate the feasibility of a major restructuring of its aircraft cabin-completion process, Bombardier recently delivered the first Challenger 604 to be outfitted by the Canadian airframer in Montreal, where the airplane is built.

According to Brian Adams, v-p of completions in Montreal, Challenger 604 S/N 5569 rolled off the assembly line and into the completion center at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (formerly Dorval) in mid-September without engines and some of the high-end avionics. The idea, he explained, was to determine whether adding these high-priced items at a point during installation of the cabin interior, and delaying final flight tests until the airplane was totally outfitted, would result in a cost benefit by reducing inventory and the total cycle time.

“We not only proved the concept, but we finished the aircraft in late December, more than two months ahead of schedule,” he said. “We did it in 18 weeks, and I think over the next year we can trim two or three weeks off that.”

The airplane was accepted in January by Paul Orfalea, president of Polear of Los Angeles, a private company created for purchase of the airplane. “We were very satisfied,” said Jacques Soiret, legal counsel to Orfalea and Polear. “This is the third jet I’ve negotiated for Paul, and [with regard to this airplane] everything happened the way it was supposed to happen at the time it was supposed to happen.”

Adams said a second 604, S/N 5580, is already in the completion facility, “and we’ll be getting S/N 5584 in the first week in May.”

Most of the Challenger 604 interiors are still being installed at the company’s Tucson, Ariz. site, but that is rapidly changing. The process started about a year ago, when Bombardier began looking at its interior completions “footprint” and determined that a restructuring was needed. As a result, installation in Tucson of Global Express interiors ceased almost immediately. All the work on the ultra-long-range aircraft is now being done at the completion center in Montreal that was originally constructed specifically for that purpose. The new Global 5000 and Global XRS will also be completed there.

Interior installation work on the Learjet 40, Learjet 45, Learjet 45XR and Learjet 60 is being moved from Tucson to Wichita, where those airplanes are assembled.
Interiors in the new Challenger 300 will also shift to Montreal, along with assembly of the airplane.

Tuscon for RJ Heavy Maintenance
As completion work winds down in Tucson, the role of the facility is shifting to that of a major regional jet heavy-maintenance site, which will employ “perhaps 300 people.” The Tucson completion workforce had once totaled about 800. A spokesman said some are being offered a choice of moving to Montreal or Wichita to continue doing interior completion work, or going through retraining for CRJ maintenance.

The reason for the restructuring was a strategic shift based on economics. “With the downturn in the aviation industry over the past two years, we had to streamline the entire business of delivering business aircraft,” said Adams. The last interior completion in Tucson is expected to be delivered late this fall. “What you’re seeing here [with this shift away from Tucson],” said Adams, “is a planned and very orderly transition.”

By the end of July, about 90 percent of all the Challengers coming off the assembly line at Montreal will be rolled across the field to the completion center. The company expects the remainder of the 604s will go to independent completion centers.
Ironically, Bombardier’s Montreal facility is located in the same buildings where the former independent completion and refurbishment center, Innotech, installed Challenger interiors, both under contract with Bombardier and as a third-party player.

Bombardier does not expect to make any dramatic changes in its policy
of outsourcing to independent vendors
for cabin components. However, noted Adams, “We do have the capacity to do some interior kits here.”