Amid much back-slapping, Bombardier's Canadair plant handed over the forward fuselage for the first Continental super mid-size business jet on the eve of the show, four weeks ahead of an already aggressive schedule. "This aircraft is already a tremendous success," enthuses Georges Tcholkayan, director of methods engineering at the Montreal plant. "I have never seen an aircraft come together so quickly, and with such quality. "The forward fuselage, already fitted with windshield, airstair door, avionics racks, galley mounts and even flight test instrumentation wiring, will be delivered to Bombardier's Learjet plant in Wichita, Kansas, later this month. There it will be joined over the next few weeks by the centre fuselage from Bombardier's Shorts plant in Northern Ireland; the wing from Mitsubishi in Japan; and the aft fuselage and empennage from Taiwan Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC)."The major structural components are on schedule for final assembly line start in September," says Continental product manager Claude Chidiac. The programme was launched in June last year, and is on track for a first flight in June next year and certification in September 2002. This makes it a 39-month programme, compared with the 55 months it took Bombardier to develop the Global Express. The Continental is a simpler aircraft, Chidiac says, but the company is definitely getting quicker at certificating new aircraft - witness the 48 months require to develop the Dash 8Q-400 and the 40 months needed for its latest, the CRJ-700.Bombardier will announce additional orders for the $14.25 million Continental at the show. The previously announced figure was 54, which excludes orders for Bombardier's -FlexJet fractional ownership programme. This is exactly twice the number of orders booked by Raytheon for its rival Hawker Horizon super mid-size jet, excluding the 80 aircraft for the NetJets and Raytheon Travel Air fractional schemes, Chidiac calculates - "and FlexJet will take 80 to 90 aircraft over 10 years". "The Continental has had a superb reception by the market around the world, and appears destined to become the benchmark in its category," says Bombardier Business Aircraft spokesman Leo Knaapen. The company conducted more market research than with any previous product, and the resulting aircraft is designed to have broad appeal. "The goal was to capture 80% of all customer needs," says Chidiac. "It's like a minivan. Everybody can find a use for it. "Bombardier says the Continental meets or exceeds the five top priorities identified by potential customers: a true US coast-to-coast range over 5,600km (3,000nm); balanced field length under 1,520m (5,000ft); price under $15 million; a true eight passenger cabin plus baggage space; and Mach 0.8 cruise speed. Thanks largely to the low maintenance costs guaranteed by Honeywell for its new AS977 engine, the Continental is expected to have lower operating costs than today's mid-sized jets - at $770/h, even lower than the $800/h operating cost of Bombardier's smaller, "super light" Learjet 45, Chidiac admits with a smile.

Source: Flight Daily News