Bombardier has begun low-risk, fast-track development of the 86-seat CRJ900 following board approval to launch the stretched derivative on the back of tentative orders for 50 aircraft, including commitments from Air Nostrum and Tyrolean Airways.

The Canadian manufacturer is targeting the first flight of a CRJ900 development aircraft within 12 months. It hopes to complete testing and secure initial Transport Canada type certification by the third quarter of 2002 and deliver the first production aircraft by the end of that year.

"This is not earth-shattering in terms of development," says Steve Ridolfi, Bombardier president regional aircraft. "We've kept the same partners and are keeping it simple. The CRJ700 was the big mid-platform change transitioning from a small to a big jet; the CRJ900 is an incremental jet."

Bombardier is projecting a total development cost of C$200 million ($135 million) for the regional jet - considerably less than was spent on redesigning and stretching the CRJ700. It hopes to steal a lead by having the CRJ900 in service two years ahead of the rival, all-new Embraer ERJ-190 and Fairchild Dornier 928JET models.

The announced commitments comprise 12 for Tyrolean and eight for Air Nostrum - both CRJ200 operators - along with a recently announced order from GE Capital Aviation Services for 10 aircraft and 20 options. The Austrian and Spanish deals are each subject to airline board approval. "There are others we hope to have in place shortly," says Ridolfi.

Work on the aircraft is already under way, with Bombardier having completed a joint definition phase with its partners and frozen the design in May. The forward and aft fuselage plugs, measuring 2.3m (90in) and 1.6m respectively, have also been completed and will be mated with a CRJ700 test aircraft to create the prototype CRJ900.

A second, all-new CRJ900 development aircraft and the first to be powered by the General Electric CF34-8C5 growth engine, will roll out in mid-2002. "The modified CRJ700 will fly as an aerodynamic prototype, while the second aircraft will basically clean up and test systems," says Ridolfi.

The line-up of partners and suppliers is essentially unchanged from the CRJ700, with the exception of Gamesa building the vertical and horizontal stabiliser in place of Avcorp. Shorts will supply the mid-fuselage, Mitsubishi the aft fuselage, GKN Westland the tail cone, Hamilton Sundstrand the flaps and slats, and Bombardier will produce the rest of the main structure.

In addition to the extra fuselage barrels and uprated 14,500lb (65kN)-thrust powerplant, the principal changes centre on a reinforced wing, an additional underfloor baggage door, a second pair of overwing exits, an aft service door and strengthened main landing gear and upgraded brakes.

Source: Flight International