As it prepares for an anticipated program launch of its C Series airliners later this year, Bombardier continues to fine-tune the design to achieve further operating cost reductions. With the price of jet fuel having almost tripled over the past three years, Bombardier’s goal of achieving a 15-percent cash operating cost benefit had become all the more daunting. In fact, without the 20-percent fuel burn advantage promised by Pratt & Whitney’s new Geared Turbofan engine, it could not have met that original goal.
Studies over the past year aimed at further lightening the airframe and cutting maintenance burdens have called for an increase in composite content from 20 percent of the airplane to 47 percent. While Bombardier plans to use aluminum-lithium fuselage skins, composites placed in strategic, corrosion-prone areas will account for some 34 percent of the fuselage structure, explained Gary Scott, Bombardier Aerospace’s new commercial aircraft president. Meanwhile, composites would account for 80 percent of wings and virtually all the material used in the empennage.
Bombardier considered an all-composite fuselage, like the Boeing 787, but another round of trade studies concluded that the high-frequency operating environment small narrowbodies typically inhabit might prove too harsh for a non-metallic design. Instead, it opted to limit the use of composites to parts such as the keel beam, floor beams and floor panels Bombardier is now considering who to appoint as its supplier for C-Series fuselage composites. Plans call for Bombardier’s composites “center of excellence” at its Short Brothers plant in Belfast to fabricate all the composite parts for the wings and empennage.
With the selection of the 23,000-pound thrust GTF engine guaranteed by Pratt & Whitney to meet Bombardier’s needs by 2013 and the prospect of a $400 million cash infusion by the Chinese, the program finally looks to have found firm footing, both technically and financially. Now it needs at least one, if not two “high quality” customers for between 50 and 100 airplanes to gain launch approval from the board, said Scott.