By flying the second CSeries test aircraft (FTV-2) on 3 January, Bombardier crossed one off a list of questions accumulated after an eventful but still disappointing year for the programme.
The 2h 9min flight by FTV-2 means Bombardier can soon begin validating the performance data accumulated since 16 September by the initial flight-test aircraft FTV-1.
“While FTV-1 is the initial test vehicle validating the flight envelope, FTV-2 testing will complement the existing knowledge we have gained from FTV-1 – all of which will ensure the accuracy and efficiency of the data collected,” says Rob Dewar, Bombardier’s vice-president and general manager of the CSeries programme.
Such data could unlock the kind of triple-digit orders that have eluded the CSeries’ grasp, yet now seem almost routine for Airbus and Boeing models. In the last months of 2013, Lion Air enthusiastically discussed a potential order for 100 CSeries aircraft, but only if the flight-test data confirm Bombardier’s tempting performance promises.
With 182 firm orders in the backlog, all it takes is one such deal to keep Bombardier on track to reach its goal of accumulating 300 firm commitments by the time the 110-seat CS100 enters service.
Attaining the four-digit order backlogs amassed by Airbus and Boeing has never been Bombardier’s aspiration for the CSeries. Airbus and Boeing are selling re-engined models off a stable and mature production system. Bombardier will be ramping up production from scratch, hoping to achieve nearly one-fifth of Boeing’s monthly output of the 737 Max within three years of the CSeries’ first delivery.
If the sales picture for the CSeries appears to be improving, the aircraft’s actual performance in flight test is still difficult to judge.
Officially, Bombardier remains committed to delivering the first CS100 to launch customer Malmo Aviation around 12 months after first flight in the fourth quarter of this year.
At the same time, Bombardier also acknowledges it is reviewing the schedule and considering whether to slow flight tests or speed them up as more of the seven-strong test aircraft fleet become available.
The pace of flight tests has been slow compared to other new aircraft programmes, even factoring in what Bombardier called a planned three-week flight stoppage after completing only three sorties with FTV-1.
By mid-December, the CSeries programme had accumulated about 30h, according to an informal count by Sylvain Faust, a CSeries watcher and blogger based near Mirabel. Bombardier has not revealed an exact figure for the type's flight hours, although the airframer says the CSeries has accumulated 200h of flight and ground tests combined.
In comparison, the Airbus A350-900 had completed more than 150 flight hours within the first three months of a mid-June maiden sortie, despite taking a lengthy, scheduled break from testing activity in August.
FTV-2 also got off to a slow start. Bombardier executives had once said that the additional aircraft would follow FTV-1 into the flight-test programme at one-month intervals. Instead, it was nearly four months after FTV-1's milestone before the second test aircraft took to the skies.
Bombardier has scheduled 2,400h of flight-test activity to achieve Transport Canada airworthiness certification for the CS100. If all five test aircraft for the CS100 variant entered testing by the end of January, each twinjet would have to fly 60h per month, or roughly one 2h flight every day to keep the programme on track to achieve certification by the end of September.
What specifically is causing the slow pace of testing so far is a mystery. Besides attributing the three-week flying hiatus in October to a second phase of ground vibration testing, Bombardier has insisted repeatedly that the results of the tests are meeting expectations.
Bombardier’s next chance to address the pace of testing and the schedule for first delivery of the CS100 will come in early February, when the company releases 2013 earnings results.
The CSeries still presents a golden opportunity. Firm orders for the A319neo and 737 Max 7 combined are roughly half of the CSeries backlog. In an airliner segment that Bombardier expects will generate sales of 7,000 aircraft over 20 years, the CSeries is still the market leader.