ANALYSIS: CSeries delay reduces Bombardier spend rate

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Bombardier announced on 16 January a long-awaited CSeries programme delay that slows the rate of flight tests and spending while software and structural suppliers catch up.

As a result, Bombardier will deliver the first 110-seat CS100 in the second half of 2015, or at least nine months later than the latest schedule and 18 months behind the original plan. The 135-seat CS300 will follow about six months later.

The cost of the C$3.4 billion ($3.11 billion) CSeries development programme is also likely to rise. Bombardier spokesman Marc Duchesne says the company is still reviewing the financial implications of the delay.

The C$3.4 billion figure, however, was set when the programme was launched in 2008 with a plan to deliver the first aircraft at the end of 2013. Bombardier executives acknowledged in a conference call with analysts last November that the CSeries costs about $1 billion a year to develop.

That rate of spending includes the cost of building new facilities and test aircraft, which is largely already spent. The walls and the roof of the CSeries production facility in Mirabel, Canada, are now mostly complete, Duchesne says. Meanwhile, FTV-3 should enter flight tests in the “coming weeks”, with the remaining four test aircraft in various stages of assembly.

The cost of supporting flight tests is the only major variable. Extending the programme by up to 15 months allows Bombardier to slow testing and protect cash reserves.

This is possible because, so far, Bombardier has announced no changes to the CSeries aircraft design, which would require more flight testing. As a result, Bombardier can complete about 2,500h of flight testing in nine to 15 months, rather than 12 months.

Bombardier needs more time to improve the maturity of the CSeries flight control software. The CS100 is Bombardier’s first attempt at a full fly-by-wire aircraft, and software has been the number one reason cited for the programme’s several delays.

So far, the two flight test aircraft have accumulated about 45 flight hours, according to an informal count by CSeries watcher and blogger Sylvain Faust.

But the aircraft have operated in direct mode with the fly-by-wire system’s envelope protections deactivated. That will begin to change in the next phase of testing, but Bombardier does not say precisely when.