Paris Air Show

Bombardier Keeps Faith in C Series Delivery Schedule

 - June 16, 2017, 2:00 PM
A Swiss CS100 takes off for a flight demo at last year’s Farnborough Air Show. [Photo: Bombardier]

Swiss International Airlines’ acceptance of its first Bombardier CS300 aircraft on May 26 marked the 12th C Series delivery in total and the fifth this year for the Canadian airframer, clearly suggesting a so-called back-loaded schedule that calls for a total of 30 to 35 airplanes by the end of 2017. Happily for Bombardier, the plan to solve the fan blade supply problems that plagued the Pratt & Whitney PW1500G early in the program appears settled, giving Bombardier Commercial Aircraft president Fred Cromer confidence in the delivery guidance the company continues to cite.

“[Pratt & Whitney has] ramped up the supply chain, they have people monitoring the situation and we’re obviously staying pretty close to them to make sure they aren’t pacing the line any more than they already have, so I think they have that issue pretty much under control,” Cromer told AIN in an interview ahead of the Paris Air Show. “The engines ramp up in the back half of this year, so I think that’s really the test. But from what we see now we think Pratt is going to meet their delivery commitments.”

Bombardier has managed to soften the financial blow resulting from the delays somewhat by adjusting its own production pace to match the delivery rate from Pratt. “We’re continuing down our production plan so that we’re not having them sitting there waiting for engines, but typically in our production schedule the engines come at the very, very end anyway because we don’t want to sit on expensive inventory,” explained Cromer.

For its part, Pratt & Whitney expects to triple production of the hybrid metallic fan blades in question after opening two new assembly facilities this year, allowing it to deliver what it quotes as 350 to 400 engines from the PW1000G family by year-end.

However, one of a set of broader technical “issues” that have plagued the geared turbofan family—particularly in the PW1100G for the Airbus A320neo narrowbody--continue to affect the C Series, namely deficient durability of the engines’ combustors. As a result, Bombardier will need to replace the engines on all the airplanes it has already delivered with powerplants outfitted with newly upgraded combustors. Cromer didn’t know exactly when Pratt & Whitney would begin delivering engines equipped with the new combustors and could only offer an estimate of “the back half of this year.”

Although by the end of May Bombardier hadn’t received an engine with the new combustor, Cromer said that the engines for the C Series application have performed in revenue operations “much better” than those for the A320neo. “We have a sort of different aircraft and systems configuration because clean-sheet design,” he explained. “So, in designing the airplane from the ground up...versus a re-engined aircraft where you are installing a new engine on an existing platform and you don’t have integration choices per se.

“The maturity level that we have because of all the testing we’ve done from the very beginning, we have what I would describe as a more mature engine going into service,” added Cromer.

Engineering trades Bombardier made early in the program included a change in the design of the pylon to allow the attachment point with the engine to move forward to accommodate the large size and weight of the fan. So rather than attach the pylon near the middle of the engine, designers attached it to the fan case, thereby reducing stress on the powerplant. “What that has done is minimize this issue that the Airbus is dealing with, this bowed rotor issue, we do not have that issue and we think it’s largely because of the pylon design.”

The so-called rotor bow issue forced Airbus to extend the start-up times for the PW1100G on the A320neo to ensure that temperature variation along the shaft does not affect its alignment.

Although Cromer said not enough C Series airplanes have entered service to quote a meaningful dispatch rate, early indications point to a better than acceptable level of operational reliability for Swiss and Air Baltic, the only two airlines to have taken deliveries so far. “Both airlines have expressed very high levels of satisfaction with how we’re doing with entry into service,” he said. Next, the company plans to deliver the first of 10 CS300s to Korean Air “in the back half” of the year, followed by Delta Air Lines’ first CS100 in the spring. Delta holds a firm order for 75 CS100s and options on another 50, and may convert a portion of its order to positions for CS300s. 

London City Lift

Swiss plans soon to operate out of London City Airport in the UK, following the airplane’s Transport Canada and EASA certification in the spring for takeoff and approach on the field’s 5.5-degree glideslope. Calling the CS100 the only commercial airplane specifically designed for operation out of such challenging airports, Bombardier estimates the airplane doubles the range of revenue flights it considers viable out of LCY.

In late March Bombardier flew a CS100 with a representative payload nonstop from to New York JFK Airport following the completion of its demonstration flights for the steep-approach, short-landing requirements at London City.

Although the steep takeoff and approach requirements at London City call for a 5.5 degree glideslope, Bombardier had to test and validate the C Series to 8.5 degrees to qualify to operate there. In its full 108-seat cabin layout, the CS100 can fly some 2,350 nautical miles into and out of London City. It can reach New York from LCY in a 42-passenger configuration. British Airways’ Airbus A318 flies 36 passengers on that route with a stop in Shannon, Ireland, for refueling. Late last summer it cut the frequency on the route from twice to once a day.  

Cromer noted that Bombardier has spoken to “a few” potential customers interested in flying the London City-New York route, he said he knows of no firm plans to do so yet.

One major customer whose plans for its airplanes still remain unclear is Russia’s Ilyushin Finance Company, which last year claimed that a politically-motivated decision by Export Development Canada (EDC) to refuse low-interest financing played a key role in its decision to reduce its order for CS300s from 32 to 20. Cromer characterized the uncertainty surrounding IFC as one exacerbated by a “challenging” market environment. “We’ve worked with them to structure the deal in a way that probably makes more sense and we have a pretty good relationship with them so we’re staying pretty close to that group,” said Cromer. “When we see opportunities and their markets firm up, that’s kind of the nature of the conversations that we’re having with them. But they’re still a valued customer in our C Series program and when the time is right we’ll be working with them to get them some airplanes and get them into service.”

China Connection

Addressing reports that Chinese investors have expressed interest in investing in the C Series program, Cromer characterized them as nothing more than speculation. Some three years ago Bombardier and China’s Comac signed what they called a definitive agreement covering four distinctive projects as part of the second phase of the parties’ long-term collaboration on common parts, systems and design aspects between the C Series and C919 narrowbody.  

The deal followed an agreement signed on March 21, 2012 covering program commonalities between the C919 and C Series and the letter of intent signed on Nov. 13, 2012 signaling the beginning of Phase II of a collaboration first announced in March 2011. Under the 2013 deal, Comac and Bombardier said they would collaborate on C Series flight test activities pertaining to non-flying tasks, implementing and maintaining the common items achieved as part of Phase I, sales and marketing and certain areas of customer services related to training, technical publications and parts distribution.

However, both companies because, according to Cromer, “each program got focused on its own issues,” eventually leading the sides to dissolve the agreement.