MIAMI — As the Bombardier CSeries CS100 is about to be delivered to its launch customer SWISS, Airways takes a look at the history of the program, which officially launched with Bombardier’s Board of Directors approval on January 31, 2007.
The Failed Fokker Deal and the BRJX
The origins of the CSeries program date back two decades ago, when Bombardier considered the purchase of Fokker in order to gain access to the Fokker 100. After citing a “clash of corporate cultures” Bombardier’s executives and Board walked away from the deal in February 1996.
At the 1998 Farnborough Air Show, Bombardier announced the launch of the BRJX or “Bombardier Regional Jet eXpansion.” The aircraft would be an clean-sheet design with a fuselage cross section of 128 inches, five-abreast seating, and two underwing-mounted engines, and devised to be a replacement of the DC-9/MD-80 from McDonnell Douglas and compete with the Boeing 717, 737-600 and Airbus A318.
While the BRJX was targeted for the 4th quarter of 2000, followed by first flight in the 1st quarter of 2003, it was subsequently shelved in favor of stretching the Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) from 70 to 90 seats (today known as the CRJ900). This decision was made to offer a 90-seater a year or more ahead rivals Embraer (involved in the development of the first generation of EJets at that time) and Fairchild Dornier’s 728 and 928, which never came to fruition.
Restarting the Program… Not Yet
In July 2004, Bombardier announced the CSeries family aircraft to replace the cancelled BRJX project. The CSeries would be larger than the CRJ family aircraft, and capable of carrying 110 to 130 passengers (dubbed the C110 and C130, respectively). Just like the BRJX, it would feature new, more fuel-efficient engines and a higher percentage of composite materials, similar to that used on the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 wide bodies.
A year later, in May 2005, Bombardier secured agreements with the Canadian and UK government for support and loans for the CSeries project. The Canadian government has committed US$350 million in financing; the British government has committed US$300 million. The program will cost about $3.5 billion, and Bombardier will share the cost with suppliers and governments.
Despite the innovative product, the response of the airlines was lukewarm. In an industry starting to recover from the 9/11 aftermath and economic recession in key potential markets, Bombardier announced in January 2006 that it would not go forward with the program. Instead, it would keep a small team working on a feasible marketing plan, besides adding other risk-sharing partners in the program. Instead, Bombardier placed its bet in the CRJ and its additional (and final) stretch, the CRJ1000.
Third Time’s a Charm
Just one year after its supposed cancellation, Bombardier confirmed that the program would continue, with its formal launch made in a press conference on July 13, 2008, on the eve of the opening of the Farnborough Air Show, with a letter of intent for 60 aircraft (including 30 options) for Lufthansa’s subsidiary Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS).
The CSeries aircraft will use Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan (now PW1000G) as the exclusive powerplant of the family aircraft, while equipped in the cockpit with Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics suite, an integrated cockpit system which incorporates 15 inch displays, with comprehensive navigation, communications, surveillance, engine-indicating and crew-alerting system (EICAS), and aircraft maintenance systems.
In 2009, Mongolian carrier Eznis Airways siged a letter of intent for seven CSeries. Meanwhile, Qatar Airways had previously been in talks with Bombardier for a major order, which never materialized after disagreeing on terms. Then, in March, Bombardier logged the first firm order with Lufthansa, which downed its intended 60 aircraft order for just 30 aircraft for SWISS.
A Troubled Development and Flight Program
On March 7, 2013, Bombardier offered an extensive update on the CSeries program, displaying the “Flight Test Vehicle One” (FTV-1) in an almost completed state, along with other three FTVs in different stages of assembly. A 160-seat variant of the CS300, named the “Extra Capacity” version with two overwing emergency exits was also presented.
During that month, the electrical system of FTV-1 was successfully powered up, and static airframe tests proceeded satisfactorily and on schedule.
Two months later, in early June, Bombardier decided to shift the timeline for the first flight into July 2013, due to upgrades to the aircraft’s software and final ground testing, further delayed at the end of Juy after a lengthy system integration process.
On August 30, 2013, Transport Canada granted the flight test permit to perform high-speed taxi and flight tests. And as Bombardier planned, FTV-1 took off to the skies on September 16, 2013 from Mirabel Airport north of Montreal in Canada. During the first flight, over 14,000 data points were gathered, which allowed to make some additional configurations and software updates.
After the first flights, challenges began to accumulate. Due to difficulties with the certification flight testing, the program was delayed by at least 12 months in January 2014 to the second half of 2015, with the CS300 to follow six months after the CS100. Then, one of the four CS100 experienced an uncontained engine failure, which led to the suspension of the test program until an investigation of the incident could be completed. After four months, it was determined that a fault in the lubrication system caused the failure.
Flight testing was resumed in September 2014. At that time, Bombardier chairman Laurent Beaudoin stated that the CSeries was now expected to to enter into service in 2016.
The second variant of the family, the CS300, took off for its maiden sortie at Mirabel on February 27, 2015, followed by the debut of both models at the 2015 Paris Air Show, where Bombardier released updated performance data, showing improvements with respects to the initial specifications. There, SWISS also announced the conversion of 10 CS100s to CS300s, and Air Baltic was confirmed as the launch operator of the CS300 in September 2016.
By late August 2015, Bombardier disclosed it had completed over 80% of the required certification tests for the CS100, obtaining the certification type from Transport Canada in December of that year.
The Program Sees the Light… with a Little Help
Despite the positive results from the flight test campaign, cost overruns and delays took their toll on the finances of Bombardier. In October 2015, the company took a took a $3.2 billion writedown on the CSeries, with the announcement of the government of Quebec to invest $1 billion to save the program, with a partnership established last June 23.
Besides the financial woes, the program experienced a drought of orders since September 2014 which further cast doubts about the feasibility of the program. These uncertainties were partially dissipated last February 16, when Air Canada signed a letter of intent with Bombardier for up to 75 CS300 aircraft as part of its narrowbody fleet renewal plan. This comprised 45 firm orders, plus options for an additional 30 aircraft. This major order became firm on June 28, 2016.
However, days after the Air Canada announcement, Republic Airways filed for bankruptcy. The airline was at that time the largest CSeries customer with 40 CS300 on order. Also, Bombardier lost a major customer with United Airlines, when the Chicago-based carrier walked away from the CSeries and placed an order for 25 Boeing 737-700 aircraft.
Two weeks after the Air Canada announcement, a groundbreaking order from Delta Air Lines for 75 CS100 firm orders and 50 options, allowing Bombardier to reach its proposed goal in orders before entry into service. The stellar momentum of the CSeries was further highlighted by its debut at the Annual General Meeting of IATA in Dublin, wherein the CS100 had its first passenger flight ever, transporting Airline Executives, Press Staff and Invitees to the Star Alliance’s Annual General Meeting in Zurich.
On June 23, Bombardier announced that the first CS100 would be delivered to SWISS on Wednesday, June 29 2016.
To date, Bombardier has received 370 firm orders for the CSeries, with 123 for the CS100 and 247 for the CS300, plus 115 commitments for both variants.