ANALYSIS: Prospects brighten marginally for CSeries

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Bombardier retains an unshakeable conviction in the progress and prospects for its CSeries narrowbody jet, despite failing to secure any firm orders at the Farnborough air show and the pre-show emergence of issues with its supply chain.

The Canadian manufacturer did announce 35 tentative orders for the 110-seat CS100 and 130-seat CS300 from AirBaltic and an unidentified customer, and made progress towards finalising a previously announced agreement for 30 aircraft with Ilyushin Finance. But while these were a moderate boost for the programme, the firm order book remains at 138.

Mike Arcamone, president of Bombardier commercial aircraft, emphasised his confidence in the Pratt & Whitney PW1500G-powered CSeries, both in terms of the aircraft's development and its sales effort. "We are not looking for one big order, but a big global diversified customer base in all regions," he says.

The airframer is on track to achieve its target of 20-30 customers with 300 orders by the time the CS100 enters service in 2013, Arcamone says. Total orders and commitments now stand at 352 from 13 customers.

But the lack of firm deals did not strike a confident note. And with all due respect to the carriers in its order book, the airframer still lacks a substantial commitment from a major network carrier beyond the launch deal from Lufthansa. AirBaltic, for instance, hopes the CSeries will help it to return to profitability after a rocky patch, but deliveries will not begin until 2015.

Bombardier is also beginning to spread its net a littler wider - and offer airlines concessions - in search of orders. Benjamin Boehm, vice-president of commercial aircraft at the manufacturer, confirms that it is in talks with AirAsia regarding a 160-seat ultra-high-density configuration of the CS300. This marks a creep into territory dominated by the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737-800, by an aircraft that had previously been content to limit itself to a maximum capacity of 149 seats.

The additional passengers would be accommodated by configuring the aircraft with 28-inch pitch seats, versus 32-inch pitch on the standard 130-seat version. No structural changes, including additional emergency exits, would be required Boehm adds.

Bombardier is also attempting to allay some fears surrounding production issues. It is assembling the first flight-test aircraft as it also tests key components, in order to realise an end-of-year first flight. The test system for the Liebherr Aerospace-supplied landing gear was commissioned during the first week of July and the final two test systems - for flight controls and high-lift systems - were due to be inaugurated by 18 July, says Robert Dewar, vice-president and general manager CSeries.

In addition, production of a few of the first centre fuselage barrel shipsets have been outsourced to external suppliers, such as Spain's Aernnova, as a means to mitigate the risk of delays at supplier Shenyang Aircraft, says Guy Hachey, president and chief operating officer of Bombardier Aerospace.

Parker Aerospace also plays down concerns of delays to the fly-by-wire flight control system that it is supplying for the CSeries. "I don't see anything near the kind of delays we've had on the [Embraer] Legacy programme with Bombardier," says Bob Barker, an executive and former president of the company. Embraer has blamed Parker for the 12-month delay of its Legacy 450 business jet.

Bombardier describes the fly-by-wire system as the highest risk item in the development programme.


Bombardier CSeries firm orders as at 31 March

Customer CS100 CS300

Braathens Aviation 5 5

Lufthansa 30 0

Korean Air 0 10

LCI 3 17

PrivatAir 5 0

Republic Airways 0 40

Undisclosed 23 0

Total 66 72

Source: Bombardier