Bombardier designing CSeries architecture for compatibility

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Bombardier is focused on designing a communications architecture for the CSeries that is compatible with whatever cockpit and cabin connectivity solutions are desired by its customers, the Canadian airframer says.

"Our customer base is saying 'what we want is the ability to get data in and out of that airplane, and use almost a world standard for that, not so much an OEM standard'. The last thing our customers want is to be jammed into using a Bombardier standard for data. The way we're looking at it is to make it so that the customer can use the [service] provider they want and the means they want," says Bombardier vice-president, commercial aircraft programmes Ben Boehm.

In 2013, when the CSeries enters into service, he adds: "It will not be about forcing a customer into what we want. It will be about us making the airplane compatible for how the customer wants to dump data in an out of the airplane."

Whether CSeries customers will ultimately prefer an L-band or a Ku-band satellite connection remains an open question.

"Right now all the customers are watching both ends and waiting to see where it goes. Half the world will try the Ku and half the world will try the L-band. One will survive. One will have the better volume. We're keeping our eyes on both. That's the privilege we have right now and don't need to lock into one or the other. I think [airlines] are hoping for a third competitor to come out there," says Boehm.

Cost will be a crucial factor in any connectivity decision, notes the Bombardier executive. "What I think the airlines are being cautious about - and it's not different than you and I buying Blackberry service - they are looking at the cost. That's why we don't want to lock ourselves into one method or another. It's the same as getting locked into a cell phone plan, and data prices go up or down, so that's what they're watching in how much is it going to cost them to transmit the data."

Regardless of how things play out, he says, the CSeries backbone will take the information "off whichever antenna the customer needs and route it" to wherever the customer wants it.

In recent weeks Airbus has drawn heat from some industry players for its decision to assume more control of the basic communications architecture of its aircraft. The European airframer says off-aircraft connectivity has become increasingly non-IFE related, and more related to cockpit and flight-critical communications.

"I can see where Airbus is coming from. Obviously, just like every other OEM, we have to be very careful in terms of the susceptibility of the cockpit communications. They have to be at a certain standard. That's what we have to do for FAR certification. How operators do their communications - that's a different level and that's where you have to let the operator do what they want to do," says Boehm.