Completing a 12-year-old goal with many twists and even moments of despair, Bombardier formally delivered the first CS100 airliner to launch customer Swiss in an emotional celebration on 29 June at Mirabel airport in front of suppliers and government officials.
Bombardier named Alain Bellemare chief executive at perhaps the company’s lowest point 18 months ago, and the Quebec native made the significance of the Swiss delivery ceremony absolutely clear in a rousing speech.
“We know that even a year ago we weren’t even sure if the programme would be here or not,” Bellemare says. “The only reason why we’re standing here today is because when we face times a year or so ago there were people who stand up for us.
The CSeries is the first clean-sheet narrowbody aircraft to enter the market in 28 years. Upon its launch in 2008, it represented a bold threat to the Airbus and Boeing duopoly, offering a thoroughly modern aircraft with Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan engines, composite wing panels, aluminium-lithium fuselage and fly-by-wire controls.
For several years, however, it was never clear if those advanced features would allow the aircraft to survive in a heavily contested market. Even recent, breakthrough deals for the CSeries from Air Canada and Delta Air Lines were attached to loss-making contracts, forcing Bombardier to book a $500 million provision in the second quarter to cover the anticipated losses.
By January 2015, however, the CSeries appeared to be sinking Bombardier. In addition to falling three years behind schedule and billions in the red, Bombardier also was reeling from losing $2.6 billion on the abandoned Learjet 85 project. Former chief executive Pierre Beaudoin was replaced by Bellemare, a veteran executive of United Technologies. Bellemare immediately moved to shore up Bombardier’s finances, slashing waning production output on the Global series business jet and striking deals with the Quebec government to inject $2.5 billion into the company, including $1 billion for the CSeries alone.
Another $1 billion investment from the federal government in Ottawa remains in negotiations. If the deal is consummated, it would relieve Bombardier from having to ask banks for more loans in 2018 to complete a five-year plan to return to profitability.
Meanwhile, Bombardier Commercial Airplanes president Fred Cromer confirms to Flightglobal that the company has launched a cost-saving campaign from suppliers. “It’s just to make sure we’re getting the ramp up we need,” Cromer says. “The only way suppliers can deliver products to industry is through us. It’s a team effort.”
But the key to that five-year programme is riding on a “flawless” entry into service with Swiss and a steady production ramp-up, with as many as 315 aircraft delivered over the next five years. But Bombardier’s task won’t be difficult.
Swiss plans to launch service with the CS100 with only minor concessions to the type’s unfamiliarity in commercial service. The first flight on 15 July from Zurich to Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport on July 15 wlll be one of four on that day. Swiss plans to ramp up the operational pace to six or seven aircraft during the second week of operations, says Peter Wojahn. Swiss chief technical officer.
Flightglobal first reported that Bombardier was studying a new family of 110- and 130-seat airliners in February 2004. The programme was formally launched in 2008, with an initial plan to complete certification by the second half of 2013. But a string of glitches involving the fly-by-wire flight controls and Pratt & Whitney PW1524G geared turbofan engines slowed the development programme.
Wojahn recalls the competitive landscape eight years ago when Bombardier launched the programme, and for airlines it was bleak. In 2008, the market was settled. “There was nothing to be seen as a new aircraft, or a new engine — nothing. And bombardier was brave enough to come up and say we are going to deliver something really new,” he says.
Wojahn criticized Bombardier’s rivals that chose to re-engine the 737 and A320, or, as he said, “To try to develop an out of an old airplane a new one But that probably is not going to work so sooner or later they will develop something new.”
Airbus chief operating officer-customers John Leahy has meanwhile ratcheted up his rhetorical attack on the merits of the CSeries, calling it a “cute little aircraft” that Bombardier can only sell for a loss. Those comments drew a sharp rebuttal from Bellemare on 29 June.
“We will be able to compete with anybody in the world: Boeing, Airbus, Embraer and whoever else wants to come at us,” he says. “All the stuff you read about competitors saying bad things about the aircraft is that they are so scared and they are right to be scared because there is nothing else like this aircraft in the marketplace.”