Bombardier has accommodated perceived market requirements and global economics in its latest CSeries decision. European correspondent Ian Goold reports as the company prepares for a mid-year first flight.
Bombardier Aerospace is a very pragmatic manufacturer, having wisely responded to changes in the prevailing wind as it spent several years preparing to bring its latest commercial aircraft – the new CSeries (CS) narrowbody – to the runway.
The Canadian company aspires to meet half of a perceived 20-year global demand for 6,900 aircraft offering around 100-150 seats and has nimbly adjusted its aircraft family to a changing world.
Initially, it offered basic 110- to 125-seat CS100 and 130- to 145-seat CS300 variants (originally dubbed C110 and C130, respectively), but the latest demonstration of Bombardier's quick-footedness has been confirmation in March that it would offer a more-capacious 160-seat passenger cabin that is expected to appeal particularly to low-cost carriers (LCCs). Ironically, an early advocate of such a variant was AirAsia, which talked of the higher capacity at last year's Farnborough air show, but the operator subsequently chose the Airbus A320neo.
By extending the larger CS300's original planned fuselage by around 2ft, to a new standard 127ft length, and adopting slim-line seats in a high-density 28-inch pitch configuration, Bombardier has produced an "extra capacity seating option" to create a family of two models and three sizes.
An international transport conglomerate, Bombardier has served a long commercial-aircraft apprenticeship to qualify as a player in the jetliner market, starting in the mid-1980s with the acquisition of Canadair. It very quickly launched the regional-jet industry with a 50-passenger development of the Challenger corporate-jet (itself based on a design by the legendary Bill Lear, who saw the potential for commercial development; anyone remember the Lear Liner 40?) to make the Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ).
Although Canadair had first dabbled in jetliner design with the 105-seat CL-50 project as long ago as 1951, perhaps its first serious venture toward mainstream jetliner supply was demonstrated with discussions of a possible mid-1990s' acquisition of Fokker – one of many companies that disappeared as the European industry rationalised – and potential use of the Dutch manufacturer's Model 100 twinjet as a stepping stone to the market for aircraft with 100+ seats.
Having abandoned that strategy, Bombardier then considered in-house development with the proposed 80- to 120-passenger Bombardier Regional Jet eXpansion (BRJ-X) design that would have taken it away from the rear-engined layout to what has become de rigueur configuration with underwing, pylon-mounted powerplants. Again, the company changed course, dropping the BRJ-X idea (that was replaced years later by further, second and third, CRJ stretches, the CRJ900 and -1000) before announcing eight years ago the two-model CSeries that would be offered with 110 or 130 seats.
That move brought Bombardier into a new ball game: head-to-head competition against Airbus and Boeing, albeit with their smallest offerings – the A318/A319 and 737-500/-600. Loans and other support were provided by the Canadian national and provincial governments and the UK government (because of Bombardier's ownership of Short Brothers, which would manufacturer parts in Northern Ireland), as well as from suppliers. Shenyang Aircraft, part of the China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC), would build the fuselage.
Come early 2006, and Bombardier put the planned CSeries programme on "hold", vastly reducing the workforce and budget assigned to the project; a sufficient number of orders had not been forthcoming and, instead, the company would proceed with the CRJ1000. After keeping the design warm on the back burner for 12 months, Bombardier confirmed it would continue CSeries development and later in 2007 formally adopted Pratt & Whitney's revolutionary new Geared Turbofan (GTF) engine, now dubbed PW1000G.
Five years ago, in February 2008, Bombardier salesmen were "authorised to offer" the CSeries to airlines and the programme was formally launched five months later with a Lufthansa letter of intent covering 60 aircraft and options on a further 30. By the end of 2012, orders stood at 148 with "commitments" covering another 234 aircraft as Bombardier prepared to complete the first aircraft for flight before this coming July.
The manufacturer says the new higher-capacity option provides customers with additional payload and range flexibility, as well as increased productivity. "The CS300's systems' capacity has been increased to accommodate a higher passenger count," says Bombardier. The increased capacity means that a second pair of over-wing emergency exits is needed and these will be available on both new-build aircraft and as a retrofit modification should operators elect to offer maximum number of seats.
The manufacturer's main focus continues to be "the development, optimisation and marketing of the CSeries in the 100- to 149-seat market", according to Bombardier Commercial Aircraft president Mike Arcamone. "Adapted for airlines looking at further increasing productivity, the extra seating enables the CS300 to offer the highest seating capacity in its market segment, with the best-in-class seat-mile costs and comfort."
The higher capacity has found immediate interest among airlines. Latvia-based AirBaltic, which placed orders for ten CS300s and took options on ten more in late 2012, is the first customer known to have selected higher-density cabin configuration with plans for a 148-seat layout. "In keeping with our 'ReShape' business plan, we are taking full benefit of the aircraft's cabin design as we look to further increase the productivity of our CS300 aircraft and our network," says chief executive Martin Gauss.
European mainline operator Lufthansa is interested in higher capacity CSeries aircraft for its subsidiary Swiss, which is scheduled to take an initial 125-passenger CS100 in early 2015. Swiss is considering CS300s with the extra-seating option, according to Lufthansa Group fleet-management executive vice-president Nico Buchholz. Although ultimately rejected by AirAsia, the 160-seat CS300 variant also has been considered by other major LCCs, which are said to have included EasyJet and Vueling.
Possibly viewed in a negative light by some analysts and commentators, Bombardier's decision last November, but likely made months earlier, to delay the scheduled CSeries first flight by six months – to the end of 2013's first half – is another example of the manufacturer's pragmatism as it moved to accommodate the cabin changes. The additional time has been needed to complete the related design engineering, including the overall increase in length, which is the equivalent of about one fuselage frame.
The CS300 centre fuselage incorporates the extra length, being the only section of the aluminium-lithium "barrel" not incorporating part numbers also common to the CS100 airframe. The extension overcame the CS300's capacity limit of 145 seats, says programme director Robert Dewar. The changes have contributed to a new CSeries maximum take-off weight of 144,000lb – an increase of about 2.4 per cent and also read across to the smaller CS100. The programme schedule is also understood to have suffered from supplier-related delays.
When Bombardier formally unveiled the partially complete initial CS100 airframe – flight test vehicle (FTV1) – at its Mirabel assembly plant near Montreal in early March, executives were adamant that the revised first-flight date would be achieved. Nevertheless, briefing documents were somewhat less precise, saying that development of the aircraft was "making excellent progress as the programme readies to transition to the flight test phase in order to achieve first flight" by the nominated date.
"We are very pleased with the progress being made on the CSeries aircraft programme and we are excited to open our facility and publicly show the world the advances and key milestones we have achieved as we get ready for first flight," said Arcamone.
The manufacturer's targets are to receive formal airworthiness certification by mid-2014, about a year after the scheduled first flight, and to have accumulated firm orders for at least 300 aircraft from at least 20 customers. "The programme is making solid progress, having met a number of key milestones over the last few months. We are delighted that Pratt & Whitney [has] achieved Transport Canada type certification of the PW1500G engine and we are focusing on three key areas that will lead to our safety-of-flight permit: static airframe testing, building of flight test vehicles and on-the-ground testing," concludes Arcamone.
If Bombardier succeeds in its aspiration to become a major third force in the market, filling a void left by Boeing's acquisition of McDonnell Douglas, Bill Lear will have a lot to answer for.