This first appeared as a Comment in the 1 April issue of Flight International
A disturbing script is being repeated on a Bombardier aerospace programme. The narrative now focuses on the Learjet 85; one of five technologically ambitious aircraft launched by the manufacturer since 2007.
Bombardier currently offers no schedule for first flight of the all-composite midsize business jet. On 19 March, as company executives courted an audience of analysts and investors in New York, the type appeared to be within minutes of making a debut flight, but the event was scrapped due to “bad weather”.
Five days later, Bombardier acknowledged that a new “systems issue” had been discovered. So, an already year-long delay will stretch further, with the company offering no new timeline for completing the milestone, and launching an at least year-long flight testing campaign.
It all seemed so familiar. On the global stage of the Paris air show last June, Bombardier executives never wavered. The CSeries CS100, they said, would fly by the end of that month. A week later came confirmation that another software update was required, and first flight slipped until mid-September.
Bombardier now has three of its developments – the Learjet 85, CS100 and CS300 – facing long and potentially costly delays: a $1 billion rise in the case of the CSeries development. All three reveal how difficult it can be to introduce innovative technology in a modern aerospace programme.
Many of Bombardier’s competitors are playing it safe. Cessna has succeeded in releasing incremental updates to existing business jet projects, while Embraer is replacing the wing and engine of its E-Jet, while retaining the fuselage and cockpit systems.
Bombardier adopted a more aggressive approach seven years ago. The Learjet 85 seeks to introduce a composite fuselage and wing to the business jet sector. The CSeries aspires to bring to the narrowbody sector composite wings, aluminium-lithium fuselage sections, geared turbofan engines and full fly-by-wire flight controls. The results are extremely attractive aircraft on paper, but, as we’ve seen, an apparently challenging design to get airborne to launch flight testing.
The delays heap greater pressure on its Global 7000 and 8000 projects. Perhaps even more than the CSeries, the success of the Global jet family could hold the keys to Bombardier’s future in the aerospace industry. It is more essential than ever for it to deliver these on time in 2016 and 2017; with or without the groundbreaking innovations of the previous projects.