Bombardier recognised late last year that it was not moving fast enough in tackling reliability issues with the CRJ700. The result is a three-part strategy shaped by the company's difficult experience introducing the Q400.

"We took too long to fix the issues with the Q400," says Jeff Mihalic, vice-president and general manager, customer service for Bombardier Regional Aircraft. "It took three years to improve despatch reliability, but it is now over 99%."

Industry-standard despatch reliability of 99% is Bombardier's minimum goal for the CRJ700. Currently the fleet is at 98%. "We understand operators are not happy, but despatch reliability is better than 99% at some and our immediate focus is on bringing those below up to that level," says Mihalic.

The CRJ700 was too close to the Q400 in development for the turboprop's troubled entry into service to influence design of the regional jet, but the lessons learned have focused the company's efforts to improve the aircraft's reliability.

"At the end of 2003, we looked at our progress. We were not moving fast enough, so we changed the dynamics of the team focused on the CRJ700," says Mihalic. Martin Elliot was appointed CRJ700/900 fleet leader, because of his involvement with the Q400. "We have used his experience to focus our efforts," says Mihalic.

There are three parts to the strategy: incorporate technical fixes; take short-term, operator-specific actions that influence the way the aircraft is operated and maintained; and improve communications with the operators.

The latter is being achieved through formation of a technical steering committee and a flight operations steering committee. "Committees help prioritise key items," says Elliot. "And we wanted more involvement with flight operations."

A key element of the strategy involves working with individual operators to resolve their particular problems. "We now have a much greater understanding of customer-specific issues that drive reliability, like implementing the MMEL [master minimum equipment list]. Before it was just technical issues," says Mihalic.

"We analyse the different operators, look at their delay and cancellation drivers, and target those having a significantly worse experience," says Mihalic. "They could have an issue with MMEL relief, or it could be an operating and maintenance practice, such as the aft baggage door coming off its rails."

Brit Air is "struggling more than most", says Mihalic, who believes the problem is operator-specific. "The aircraft is not mature yet and how it is deployed is key. Brit Air's network is scattered and challenging, making it difficult to address aircraft overnight. Bombardier has added resources and reduced out-of-service time at Brit Air by a factor of three over the last year."

Delta Connection carrier Atlantic Southeast Airlines is doing best with the aircraft. "They have a more concentrated route network, better provisioning of spares and a proactive plan to deal with the aircraft," says Mihalic. "Their technicians meet and greet every flight and ask the pilots if there are issues with the aircraft."

Addressing operator-specific issues in the short term can have big benefits for fleet-wide reliability. "We are trying to reduce the gap between operators, with special attention on some to bring them up to the fleet reliability level before we begin fleet modifications," says Elliot. "When they are all at the same level, we will get a 0.6% increase in despatch reliability just from operating and maintenance improvements across the fleet."

Bombardier has bundled technical fixes into two reliability improvement modification programme packages. RIMP-1 has been incorporated by all but one airline, resulting in a measurable improvement in despatch reliability, says Simon Heaton, vice-president, regional aircraft programmes.

RIMP-2 will be launched in mid-May and it will take around a year to upgrade the fleet. To provide a near-term improvement in reliability before these upgrades are incorporated, Bombardier plans nine overnight modifications. "We tried to bundle batches of upgrades so that airlines could schedule downtime. Now there is more effort to break out upgrades that can be done overnight," says Heaton.

"We have been looking at how to accelerate some modifications by breaking them into parts, typically 6h work, that can be done overnight," says Elliot. "Some aircraft will not get RIMP-2 before the end of the year, so we will do some things earlier." As with the RIMP upgrades, parts will be free and labour costs covered by the manufacturer. "All upgrades are at Bombardier's expense," says Mihalic.

"RIMP-2, plus the overnight modifications, plus operating and maintenance improvements will give us an industry-standard 99% despatch reliability," says Elliot. "We are driving beyond 99% - the CRJ200 is at 99.5%."

Bombardier has started measuring despatch availability, which captures all out-of-service time where despatch reliability measures just the first delay or cancellation. "The biggest change is in how we handle out-of-service aircraft," says Mihalic. "We are tracking every out-of-service aircraft, every operator, every day, with a single-minded focus on getting aircraft back in service as soon as possible."


Operators are increasingly using CaseBank Technologies' SpotLight web-based troubleshooting tool, with Bombardier covering the cost to the end of 2005. SpotLight guides technicians to previously solved problems with similar symptoms. With over 800 cases, the CRJ700/900 database is approaching the 1,200 cases in the longer-running CRJ100/200 database.

"The more operators that use it, the more cases there are," says Elliot, who believes the latest SpotLight version, in use for Q400 as well as the CRJ700/900, encourages take-up because it directly links into the fault isolation manual. "The fault isolation manual says what might have happened; SpotLight says what has happened in the past."

Spares support has been criticised by CRJ700 operators. "We could have done a better job of initial spares provisioning and been more proactive in redefining spares needs," says Mihalic. Measuring despatch availability has highlighted spares availability issues. "Our fill rates on the CRJ700 are not as high as on the CRJ200. We will ramp up over the next four to six months, particularly in Europe."

Over 95% of planned parts will be in stock by July, up from 75% in the Detroit spares hub and a "fraction of that" in Paris. Warehouses will be relocated to Chicago and Frankfurt in 2005 under a deal between Bombardier and distributor Caterpillar that will ensure more parts can be delivered within 8h. "We are stepping up to concerns on sparing," says Mihalic.

Bombardier's risk-sharing partners and suppliers are also stepping up to the technical problems and spares issues. "We have not had the rigour in our management process to ensure all suppliers are supporting the aircraft to appropriate levels," says Mihalic. "The Airbus model ensures good supplier support. We have taken it on and will make progress this year."

General Electric, meanwhile, is working to correct a high-pressure turbine (HPT) first-stage problem on the CRJ700's CF34-8C1 engine that cropped up within months of service entry. After completing a virtually trouble-free certification programme, the uprated engine suffered the first in a series of HPT blade failures in December 2002. Using a new strobe-like analytical technique, dubbed advanced light probe testing, GE identified a vibration fatigue mode not seen in development. "We are pleased with how quickly by normal standards we came up with what the issue was and how quickly we designed a solution," says Gordon Fraser, CF34 Bombardier programmes manager.

Retrofits began in June last year, six months after the incidents began, and by March more than 80% of the fielded engines had been upgraded. The fix involves inserting a damper between the blade and first-stage disc, and can be accomplished "on wing". GE, which plans to complete fleet-wide modifications by year-end, is supporting the effort with 20 spare engines and 25 HPT modules. In all, more than 250 CF34-8C1 engines are in service, with around another 40 in spares pools or under delivery.

Operators, meanwhile, are being asked to continue monitoring vibration levels for any "subtle changes" in the trends. The issue proved an unexpected test of the fault monitoring and diagnostic electronics on the CF-8C1, the first member of the CF34 family with full-authority digital engine control. Aside from an early issue requiring the replacement of parts of the combustion chamber assembly, GE says the engine is performing well with good fuel burn and improving reliability.

"We fully accept all responsibility for technical issues with the aircraft," says Mihalic. "We are doing everything possible in the short term to help operators be successful with the product at its current maturity. We are confident of our strategy and extremely focused."



Source: Flight International