New aircraft programmes have something of a credibility problem. When Boeing delivers the first 787 more than three years late and Airbus delays assembly of the A350 by more than a year, commercial aircraft customers are right to be wary of official schedules.
Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in Hangar Y, which is the heart of Bombardier's final assembly centre for the CSeries in Mirabel, Quebec.
The entire hangar is partly designed as a simulated working environment, but partly also to reassure customers, investors and, yes, journalistic observers that the CSeries is not going the way of the A350 or the 787 - at least from a schedule standpoint.
A full-scale, wooden replica of the CSeries stands along one wall. A robotic fastening machine is perched in a corner. Final assembly tooling jigs are arrayed along the floor. Visitors are assured that these tools help workers familiarise themselves with production before the first components arrive. It is a good idea, but not quite persuasive enough, and Mike Arcamone, Bombardier's head of commercial aircraft, is forced to repeat a mantra: "Yes, the CSeries programme is on track."
The surprising thing is that, by all public accounts, Arcamone is right. The programme is still roughly on track. First flight is likely to be delayed several weeks if Bombardier's attempt to compress final assembly by a month is unsuccessful. But the real test is whether Bombardier can deliver the first CSeries roughly on time and then ramp up production. And given the delays Airbus and Boeing customers have endured, if Bombardier can keep any schedule drift within a six-month window, customers will likely react with delighted surprise.
Many questions hover over the CSeries programme. Can Bombardier's Chinese fuselage partner Shenyang keep up with demand? Can Bombardier Belfast master the challenge of delivering a single-piece, all-composite wing? Is Bombardier ready to introduce a fly-by-wire airliner that is more complex than anything it has produced in its rather prolific history?
Only time will answer these questions to the satisfaction of a market accustomed to disappointment. But Bombardier at least gets credit for learning from the mistakes of others. Other airframers still use wooden mock-ups as 3D cabin or flightdeck design tools. But no airframer still uses a full-scale, wooden mock-up as a tool for simulating the final assembly process.
Given history, Bombardier is right to try something different. It might even prove the doubters wrong.
(This first appeared as the main leading article in the 3 July issue of Flight International)