Bombardier vindicated by first C Series order

 - March 30, 2009, 5:20 AM

Bombardier finally received its long-awaited first order from Deutsche Lufthansa for its C Series airliners, the Canadian manufacturer announced last month. The contract includes a “firm purchase agreement” for 30 of the smaller, CS100 (formerly C110) version of the 110- to 145-seat pair of jets, valued at $1.53 billion.

The Lufthansa Group served as the launch customer for the airplane when it signed a letter of interest for up to 60 of the airplanes, including options on 30, during last year’s Farnborough airshow in July. Speculation about when Bombardier would secure a firm order has run rampant ever since, however, frustrating a tight-lipped
C Series braintrust while the supervisory board at Lufthansa took about eight months to finally seal the deal.

During a phone interview with AIN from Montreal last month, Bombardier Commercial Aircraft president Gary Scott said that Lufthansa’s Swiss International Airlines subsidiary would take delivery of its first airplane some time in 2014, but that, in fact, he expected another, still unidentified customer would become the first operator during 2013–the year Bombardier expects the CS100 to gain certification.

In a statement released last month, Swiss said it planned to use the CS100s to replace its current fleet of 20 Avro RJ100s, which now serve domestic and international destinations in Europe out of Zurich and Geneva. Lufthansa has already placed a firm order for 30 of the Embraer E190-family of jets, five of which it has so far allocated to Italian subsidiary Air Dolomiti in the form of 116-seat E195s.

According to Swiss, the C Series will consume “well over” a quarter less fuel than its Avro RJ100s, resulting in a reduction in CO2 emissions by some 90,000 metric tons a year–the equivalent of 7,000 flights between Zurich and London City Airport. Scott said that Bombardier will pursue London City certification for the CS100, which, in Swissair’s single-class configuration, holds 115 seats.

The larger version of the airplane, scheduled for certification in the second half of 2014, will hold 130 seats in a standard configuration and 145 in a high-density layout.

“We’ve been living the process since the launch last July, so we expected this,” said Scott. “But it’s great to finally get the purchase agreement approved by the supervisory board and get it announced.” Asked why it took Lufthansa so long to finally sign a firm order, Scott blamed the macroeconomic climate more than any particular financing difficulty Lufthansa might have confronted.

“First of all, soon after we launched, the world changed, and there were many new items on the agenda of the supervisory boards and other board meetings that maybe took precedence,” he said. “[Lufthansa] had said many times over that they’re committed to the program, so for them, there really was no sense of urgency to get this thing done…If there is a frustrating part about it, it is all the speculation on the outside that you have to deal with, all the while you know things are moving along on the inside but you can’t really share that.”

Scott said that the program has already secured 90 percent of its needed suppliers, including, of course, engine supplier Pratt & Whitney, whose PurePower PW1000G Geared Turbofan will fly on the first prototype in 2012, according to Pratt & Whitney next-generation product family vice president Bob Saia. The C Series design now calls for a 46-percent composite content, said Scott, including all-composite wings, empennage, aft fuselage, window frames, keel beams and center wing box.

The company plans to make the fuselage skin out of an aluminum alloy, the exact chemistry of which it continues to contemplate with various potential suppliers, said Scott. As of now, the “baseline” fuselage would consist of aluminum-lithium, he said.

“Basically, we get 80 percent of the weight benefit that you’d get from composite, while we maintain the ease of repairability,” said Scott. “For a C Series that cycles six, seven, eight times a day you often end up damaging the fuselage, so you need to be able to repair it. There’s a lot of ramp rash. For the bigger airplanes, such as the 787 and A350, they’ll cycle only a couple of times a day. And they’re still learning how to repair those aircraft.”

Bombardier and China’s Shenyang Aircraft last year signed a firm contract that gives the Chinese concern responsibility for the forward and center fuselage sections and doors, which together account for some 10 percent of the airplane’s structure. A risk-sharing partner in the C Series, the Chinese have committed $400 million to the program.

Scott said Bombardier plans to break ground for a more than one-million-sq-ft building in Mirabel, Quebec, for final assembly “around the middle of this year.”