Self-inflicted wounds

This first appeared as our lead Comment in the 2 July issue of Flight International

Announcing a delay of up to one month in a five-year development programme would be meaningless and usually forgotten unless a company – or, indeed, an entire industry – suffers from an acute credibility problem.

So when Bombardier postpones the maiden flight by the first CSeries aircraft by anywhere between one and 31 days, the public and investment community reaction to yet another delay – however trivial it may actually be – by another aerospace manufacturer has become somewhat predictable.

The company’s stock sank as much as 4.5% on the Toronto stock exchange in the first few hours after the announcement, as shareholders worried about what other surprises Bombardier may be preparing to unleash about the CSeries.

A loss of credibility is one problem an OEM cannot pin on its suppliers. Bombardier executives were never forced to say repeatedly and consistently since last November that the CSeries would fly by late June. Nor was there any requirement to repeat the prediction ad nauseam in public appearances and interviews at the Paris air show, an event that ended three days before Bombardier announced the latest delay.

Bombardier’s show of confidence during the show also seems almost gratuitously unnecessary. Signs of a gathering delay had been building for weeks. It takes months to prepare for a maiden flight by a commercial aircraft, including a series of highly visible tests on open runways. But there had been no sightings of the CSeries performing the required battery of low-speed and high-speed tests in Mirabel, Canada.

A similar pattern was revealed during 2012 as Bombardier closed within 10 weeks of the originally scheduled first flight by 31 December. The giveaway that a major delay was looming was the status of engine certification. By late October, Pratt & Whitney still had not completed development testing of the PW1500G engine for the CSeries, which typically finishes at least six months before a first flight event.

It wasn’t until 7 November that Bombardier announced that the CSeries first flight was delayed by six months. P&W finally certificated the PW1500G with Transport Canada in February, which happens to be six months ahead of the new schedule for first flight in July.

These are self-inflicted wounds – and it is time that the industry begins to understand that it is only fooling itself.

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