Bombardier sees 'silver lining' to CRJ1000 flight test suspension

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Bombardier's CRJ1000 remains grounded by the airframer as it continues to work to resolve a software glitch associated with the rudder control-by-wire system.

However, the Canadian firm remains confident that its latest target to deliver the first CRJ1000 before the end of its 2011 fiscal year is achievable. And it insists there is a "silver lining" to the programme's delay.

"We're seeing some potential reliability improvements we can make to the software and give to our customers. Some good came out of this despite of the bad news," says Bombardier vice-president commercial aircraft programmes Ben Boehm.

In July the regional aircraft programme experienced a software glitch associated with the rudder control-by-wire system. At that time, Bombardier thought it had found the root cause and put a fix in place. Yet, one month later, the airframer experienced another glitch for which it could not determine the root cause, and the CRJ1000 flight test programme - which includes one prototype aircraft and the first production aircraft - was grounded.

Bombardier in early December announced it had determined the root cause of the problem and that it expected flight testing to resume after the Christmas holiday. In an interview this week Boehm declined to speculate when flight testing of the 100-seat CRJ1000 will resume. "We have a plan that we want to work to but we're not in the situation that 'if it doesn't start [flying] on this day, I'll have to throw the whole plan out'," says Boehm. "The most important thing for me right now is getting the software right."

A lot of what Bombardier is doing now "is a lot of ground testing and computer testing because it's a software problem, not a flying problem", says Boehm, noting that it is "cheaper to solve software problems on the ground".

The Bombardier executive adds that the airframer has implemented "a comfortable window" so he is "very comfortable that second half of 2010 is an achievable target" for first delivery.

When the flight test schedule resumes, the aircraft will have roughly 30% of flying left. "We have to remember that the plane has already done 70% of its flying so it's not like the [Boeing] 787 where we're expecting a first flight and it's delayed," says Boehm.

The order backlog for the CRJ1000 stands at 49 units. Air Nostrum holds firm orders for a total 35 CRJ1000s, while Britair is earmarked for 14 of the type.