Firm order vindicates Bombardier’s C series

Paris Air Show » 2009
June 8, 2009, 5:29 AM

The firm order placed by Deutsche Lufthansa late this past winter for 30 Bombardier CS100 airliners not only gave the much-maligned C Series its first confirmed customer, it granted the executives at Bombardier Commercial Airplanes (Chalets A365, A366) some measure of vindication after eight months of persistent questions about whether the program would ever yield a prototype. After all, by the time the Bombardier’s fiscal year had ended on January 31, the project’s industrial launch had become a six-month-old memory, and the lack of a promised firm order began to chip away at the project’s credibility with each passing day.

Meanwhile, as the global economic downturn had turned into a full-blown crisis, some of the doubters began to gather an increasingly sympathetic audience, particularly after Qatar Airways publicly acknowledged that talks over a possible C Series order had broken down, at least temporarily.

In Pursuit of a Buyer
Undeterred, Bombardier Commercial Airplanes CEO Gary Scott and his team quietly went about their day-to-day design and marketing tasks while analysts and assorted industry pundits kept trying to poke holes in the C Series business case. Finally, by March 11, Lufthansa signed the order for 30 airplanes and placed options on another 30, cooling some of the rhetoric that, by Scott’s own admission, elicited a fair bit of frustration within the company. Then, less than three weeks later came an order from Dublin-based Lease Corporation International (LCI) for 20 more airplanes, including 17 of the larger SC300 variants, leaving the program with the two “high quality” customers and firm orders for 50 airplanes that Bombardier cited as prerequisites for a launch early in its sales campaign.

“If there is a frustrating part about it, it is all the speculation on the outside that you have to deal with, all the while you know things are moving along on the inside. But you can’t really share that,” said Scott on the morning of the announcement.

Although plans call for CS100 certification in the second half of 2013, Lufthansa’s Swiss International Airlines subsidiary expects to take delivery of the first airplane some time in 2014. In fact, said Scott, Swiss most likely won’t fly the airplane in revenue service before another airline–perhaps an LCI lessee–takes delivery in the second half of 2013.

In a statement released in March, Swiss said it planned to use the CS100s replace its current fleet of 20 Avro RJ100s, which now serve domestic and international destinations in Europe out of Zurich and Geneva. Lufthansa has already placed a firm order for thirty 100-seat Embraer 190/195 jets, five of which it has placed with its Italian regional affiliate, Air Dolomiti.

According to Swiss, the C Series will consume “well over” a quarter less fuel than its Avro RJ100s, resulting in a reduction in CO2 emissions by some 90,000 metric tons a year–the equivalent of 7,000 flights between Zurich and London City Airport. Scott said that Bombardier will pursue London City certification for the CS100, which, in Swissair’s single-class configuration, holds 115 seats, said Scott.

The larger version of the airplane, scheduled for certification in the second half of 2014, will hold 130 seats in a standard configuration and 145 in a high- density layout.

“We’ve been living the process since the launch last July, so we expected this,” said Scott. “But it’s great to finally get the purchase agreement approved by the supervisory board and get it announced.” Asked why it took Lufthansa so long to finally sign
a firm order, Scott blamed the macroeconomic climate more than any particular financing difficulty Lufthansa might have confronted.

“First of all, soon after we launched, the world changed, and there were many new items on the agenda of the supervisory boards and other board meetings that maybe took precedence,” he said. “[Lufthansa] had said many times over that they’re committed to the program, so for them, there really was no sense of urgency to get this thing done.”

Any urgency on Bombardier’s part didn’t show either, and by early spring the company had already secured “90 percent” of the supplier base for the aircraft, said Scott. Among the major partners so far fully committed, Italy’s Alenia has agreed to provide the horizontal and vertical stabilizers, along with their associated hydraulic, electrical and flight control systems, lights and antennas; Fokker Elmo of the Netherlands has taken responsibility for the design and production of the entire wiring and interconnection system, along with all flight test and instrumentation wiring required during the airplane’s certification; and Goodrich Actuation has agreed to design and produce the flap and slat actuation systems.

“We are currently reviewing quotations and proposals from a wide range of potential suppliers, including other European suppliers,” said Bombardier Commercial Aircraft vice president of programs Benjamin Boehm.

Cost Savings
Of course, perhaps the program’s highest profile supplier– East Hartford, Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney–would also become one of the earliest to commit when last year it agreed to supply its new PurePower PW1000G geared turbofan to power the first C Series prototype in 2012. Designated the PW1524G for the C Series application, the 15,000- to 24,000-pound-thrust engine will contribute more than any other design element to Bombardier’s promise of a 15-percent direct operating cost benefit over any comparably sized aircraft available.

Much of the rest of the cost benefit will come by virtue of the design’s use of “advanced” materials and aerodynamics. The C Series design now calls for a 46-percent composite content, said Scott, including all-composite wings, empennage, aft fuselage, window frames, keel beams and center wing box.

The company plans to make the fuselage skin out of an aluminum alloy, the exact chemistry of which it continues to contemplate with various potential suppliers, said Scott. As of now, the “baseline” fuselage would consist of aluminum-lithium, he said. “Basically, we get 80 percent of the weight benefit that you’d get from composite, while we maintain the ease of repairability,” said Scott. “For a C Series that cycles six, seven, eight times a day you often end up damaging the fuselage, so you need to be able to repair it. There’s a lot of ramp rash. For the bigger airplanes, such as the 787 and A350, they’ll cycle only a couple of times a day. And they’re still learning how to repair those aircraft.”

Bombardier and China’s Shenyang Aircraft last year signed a firm contract that gives the Chinese concern responsibility for the forward and center fuselage sections and doors, which together account for some 10 percent of the airplane’s structure. A risk-sharing partner in the C Series, the Chinese have committed $400 million to the program.

Scott said Bombardier plans to break ground for a more than one-million-square-foot building in Mirabel, Quebec, for final assembly “around the middle of this year.” While the company has selected Mirabel to assemble the finished product, Bombardier’s Belfast, Northern Ireland facility will develop and manufacture the wings, while manufacture of the aft fuselage and cockpit will fall to Bombardier’s Saint-Laurent site. The governments of Canada and Quebec, as well as Northern Ireland and British government departments, have pledged to contribute “repayable investments.”

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