FRENCH REGIONAL airline Brit'Air is the launch customer for the stretched, 70-seat Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ)Series 700, with a firm order for four aircraft.

The Canadian company says that it has options and conditional orders for a further 28 aircraft, plus memoranda of understanding for another 35, including six for Taiwan's Great China Airlines. Eight airlines have signed agreements for the Series 700, Bombardier says.

Development of the Series 700, previously known as the CRJ-X, will cost C$645 million ($478 million), excluding the General Electric CF34-8C engine. Bombardier is providing C$440 million, which includes a C$87 million loan from the Canadian Government. Risk-sharing partners will provide the balance, and include GE (powerplant), Rockwell-Collins (avionics), Leibherr (air management), Sundstrand (electrical-generation and slat/flap systems), Intertechnique (fuel system) and Menasco (landing gear). C&D Interiors is expected to supply the cabin interior, and negotiations are under way with hydraulic and flight-control-system suppliers.

Mitsubishi has been picked to supply the aft fuselage, with board approval hoped for by the end of February. Negotiations continue with potential suppliers of the tail section. Montreal-based Canadair will build the forward fuselage and wing, and assemble the aircraft, while sister company Shorts will produce the forward- and mid-fuselage and belly fairing. It will also supply nacelles and thrust-reversers to GE.

Some 500 engineers from Canadair and its partners will be involved in the eight-month joint- definition phase now under way in Montreal. Detail design is to begin in July and the first flight has been scheduled for the second quarter of 1999. Four aircraft will be flown from Bombardier's Wichita, Kansas, flight-test centre, with simultaneous Canadian, European and US certification due in 2000, immediately followed by the first delivery to Brit'Air.

The French regional already operates nine 50-seat CRJs, and Bombardier is emphasising the advantages of the commonality between the current Series 100/200 and stretched Series 700 CRJs. These include a common crew qualification, which will enable operators to maintain a common pilot pool and match capacity to demand by switching between the two aircraft. Great China is already a launch customer for the Bombardier Dash 8-400 70-seat turboprop, reinforcing the manufacturer's belief that there is a market for both aircraft.

Bombardier Aerospace president Bob Brown says that the launch of the CRJ Series 700 completes the company's family of regional aircraft. The 100-seat category "is of interest", he says, but Bombardier "-is unlikely to take a lead role" in developing such an aircraft. Brown confirms that "exploratory" discussions continue with Mitsubishi, which wants to lead development of a 100-seater.

Belfast, UK-based Shorts has received a further boost after being selected by Bombardier to manufacture the engine nacelles, wing-mounted flight-control surfaces and main landing-gear fairings for the Dash 8-400. The UK company shed 850 staff when it stopped building wings for the Fokker 70/100 in 1996, but now expects to take on 1,000 workers over the next five years.

Source: Flight International