Canadian airframer Bombardier is close to awarding a contract for the design of its CSeries assembly plant in Mirabel, Quebec.

"We are very close to awarding that contract. It is for the design itself," revealed Bombardier Aerospace president Guy Hachey during an earnings conference call today.

"We will be breaking up the contract in different pieces. As I mentioned, we'll start with a smaller building where we do the ground and flight testing and that will be the first building which we'll break ground with in the second half of 2009."

Bombardier launched the 110/130-seat geared turbofan (GTF)-powered aircraft on 13 July with a letter of interest from Lufthansa for up to 60 of the type.

Discussions with Lufthansa are ongoing. It is a matter of tying up the details, says management.

The company's prospects for securing CSeries orders from Chinese operators have also not hit a serious snag, the aiframer assures.

Over the last week, reports surfaced that an order freeze on new aircraft has been issued in China until current overcapacity issues are resolved.

"I would say that we've reviewed the comments that were reported in the paper and we don't feel that's exactly what was said," says Bombardier president and CEO Pierre Beaudoin.

He says Bombardier's CSeries conversations with Chinese airlines are "going on" and will not be affected by "short-term situations".

Overall, Bombardier remains confident in bringing the CSeries to market despite current economic volatility. The CSeries, which is expected to enter service in 2013, "is a long-term programme" and Bombardier has "always had a long-term approach", says Hachey.

The $2.6 billion needed to develop the CSeries will come in roughly equal shares from Bombardier, principal suppliers and the Canadian and UK governments. Hachey says the firm does not expect any changes to the current funding structure, but admits Bombardier "is watching what we're spending in order to preserve cost".

He also notes China's AVIC I, which will build the centre fuselage of the CSeries, remains committed to invest $400 million to design that portion of the aircraft.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news