Several years worth of major aircraft programme delays, first from Airbus and then Boeing, has made the industry sceptical about whether airframers can bring new-design jets to market within the constraints of their own ambitious schedules.
With credibility down due to slip-ups – and outright mess-ups – in the A380 and 787 programmes, the pressure is now on for Bombardier to make good on its promise to deliver its now-launched Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan (GTF)-powered CSeries airliner in 2013.
“The industry has been watching what has been happening with the 787 and the A380 and we’ve got to make sure that we do better,” says Bombardier director, programme management office Benjamin Boehm.
“We’ve got to build back what I call the Tier One aircraft OEMs’ reputation, that we can deliver aircraft on time and our teams are focused on that right now.”
Boehm says customers “are relying on us to deliver a product because they have built either a network plan, a training plan, quite frankly a revenue plan around the delivery of that product, so yes we do need to rebuild some of that trust”.
P&W, whose GTF has also been selected to power Japan’s Mitsubishi Regional Jet, is confident it will be able to uphold its end of the bargain. The GTF demonstrator engine was recently cleared for flight testing after successfully completing its phase II ground tests. “We also are quite confident that Bombardier and Mitsubishi recognize the challenges and are planning appropriately. Because [the CSeries and MRJ] are not entering service until 2013, it gives them a good five years to be sure…they are ready as promised,” says Mary Ellen Jones, VP of marketing for P&W Commercial Engines.
For Bombardier there is more than credibility at stake in keeping the CSeries on track through the process of development, testing, certification and delivery. The Canadian manufacturer, which is technically still in the conceptual design phase with the CSeries, has a very real chance to offer the airliner as a competitor to the highly-successful 737NG and A320 family aircraft.
Even though Bombardier has consistently promoted the CSeries as a significantly more economical replacement to aged MD-80s, Fokker 100s and DC-9s, it now appears to be coming to terms with the possibility that it might actually have a shot at giving the big boys a run for their money.
The company recently updated its specifications for the entire CSeries family, including the 110, 110ER, 130 and 130ER, featuring a longer wing span and better range on each, and introduced a new “hot and high” variant of the 130, dubbed the 130XT. The CSeries 130 variants, at highest density, can seat 145 passengers. Asked directly if the CSeries will compete with the 737 or A320, Bombardier says: “The CSeries is the only family of aircraft whose design is optimized for the 100- to 149- seat market.”
The airframer is convinced now more than ever that airlines want a combination of good economics combined with environmental benefits, range and airfield performance.
“A plane that has a characteristically larger wing, which is something that Bombardier is known for, that, for example, serves a US carrier well from Raleigh-Durham to San Diego [but also] serves a Middle Eastern or sub-Saharan African carrier, because it gives them the lift they need on a 35 degrees Celsius day – it’s those kinds of fundamentals that are part of the CSeries,” says Boehm.
Will the aircraft be stretched to 150-plus seats? Boehm says: “At this point in time, our mind and our teams are focused on getting this airplane right.”
Irrespective of this decision, Bombardier may very well find itself in the enviable position of being able to attract orders from carriers that are desperate for more fuel-efficient aircraft in the near-term and unwilling to wait for replacements to the 737 or A320.
Airbus and Boeing have continued to push back plans for successors until the latter part of the next decade, although today’s LOI from Lufthansa for 60 CSeries aircraft and more commitments in the offing may prompt the two airframers to reconsider that stance.
“The creep in 737 and A320 family replacement has been pushed out. The longer that goes, particularly with Bombardier selecting the GTF engine, that may cause some carriers to look more closely at [the CSeries],” says aviation consultant George Hamlin. “What will be the low end of those [next generation] families? Will it be floor of 125 seats or more than 150 seats? If the latter is the case, Bombardier and Embraer will have less competition than they have right now.”
But that window of opportunity gives Bombardier all the more reason to deliver the CSeries on time. Hamlin says it’s crucial that the airframer does not let the programme slip, as the CSeries’ entry-into-service will then come close to the timeline for next generation narrowbody replacement.