Bombardier said on Sunday its new CSeries passenger jet was in good shape to make its crucial first flight by the end of June as it prepares to unveil orders for the more fuel efficient jet at the Paris air show.
The first aircraft, which rolled out of the factory in green primer paint and is now under the control of the flight test crew, is "looking great" for a test sortie this month, Chet Fuller, senior commercial vice president, told reporters.
The countdown coincides with preparations for the first flight of the larger Airbus A350, which could fly before the June 17-23 air show.
The CSeries and A350 are both examples of a new generation of carbon-composite passenger jets designed to save weight and allow airlines to burn less fuel, a manufacturing technique first introduced on such a scale by Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.
The rare prospect of two maiden flights within weeks of each other has created a buzz in the aviation industry and whetted the appetite of airlines anxious to cut their fuel bills.
Airbus said on Sunday engine tests had started on the A350, a milestone that typically happens one or two weeks before the first flight unless there are last-minute technical problems.
Fuller dismissed speculation of a CSeries flight in time for the mid-month event in Paris, saying it would not be dictated by marketing considerations.
But he said Bombardier would use the showcase event to unveil a previously undisclosed customer for the 110-seat version of the CSeries and could also add new business.
He also predicted strong sales for that variant in Africa, where he was speaking on the sidelines of the IATA meeting of airline industry leaders in Cape Town.
Reuters reported in December 2011 that Bombardier had sold 10 of the aircraft to a start-up airline called Odyssey that intended to start non-stop all-business class flights from London City to New York using the new jets.
The airline has previously kept its plans under wraps as it sets up operations in the cut-throat airline business, but looks set to go public at the air show. Bombardier declined to comment.
Powered by a new generation of Pratt & Whitney engines, the CSeries prompted Airbus and then Boeing to update their best-selling models with similar engines.
Airbus and Boeing have collectively sold over 3,000 of the revamped models. Bombardier has sold 145 CSeries.
Fuller said sales of the CSeries had suffered from the industry's worsening reputation for delays in new projects after problems at both Airbus and Boeing but was confident that the first flight and next year's entry to service would give sales a boost.
He said the CS300, the larger of two CSeries models, would be at least 10 percent cheaper per seat and 15 percent cheaper in total flight costs to operate than the Airbus A319neo, a revamped version of the model the CSeries was designed to compete with.
Compared with the revamped A320neo he said the CS300 would have 25 percent lower trip costs and offer similar costs per seat, give or take 2 percent.
Gravity always wins!