ZURICH — Just months after the introduction of the Boeing 777-300ER, SWISS has introduced a new flagship to its fleet with the arrival of the Bombardier CS100, after its delivery last week.

“Of course the CSeries is the new flagship of the Swiss fleet”, a beaming Peter Koch explains to Airways on this sunny July morning in a hangar at Zurich’s Kloten Airport. What initially sounds like a no-brainer is in fact not without some delicacy. Peter Koch is not only flight captain, but also fleet chief for the incoming Bombardier CSeries fleet at launch customer SWISS, part of the Lufthansa Group. But then, this same hangar has already witnessed a new, different milestone in the airline’s fleet development this year, only about six months ago.

swiss-cseries-first-debut (1)

In February, SWISS introduced the Boeing 777-300ER into its fleet. “But being a world premier, I definitely consider the CSeries our new flagship, but for a captain of course any aircraft type he flies is the most important type anyway”, he concedes, smiling. After a spectacular arrival into Zurich last Friday from its delivery flight out of Montréal’s Mirabel airport, site of Bombardier’s final assembly line for the CSeries, via Dublin, the first revenue service for the world’s only brand new passenger airliner since decades comes closer. On its arrival, the first aircraft, (HB-JBA • MSN 50010), was greeted in a stunning flyby by the world’s only airworthy Lockheed Super Constellation, operated in Switzerland.

While the first production aircraft will make a quick hop to appear in the static display of the coming Farnborough Air Show in England next Monday, on its opening day, show time is up now and the aircraft has to deliver in everyday revenue service very soon. The first ever commercial flight will be LX638, leaving Zurich at 12.30 pm to Paris-CDG on Friday July 15. And the new SWISS CEO, Thomas Klühr, a German seconded from Lufthansa, boasts with confidence. “This aircraft reduces our unit cost by 25%, halves noise perception as well as CO2 output and creates 150 new jobs”, he told a hangar full of local dignitaries as well as international media.

Lufthansa Group took a bet when it ordered the airliner in 2009. All of the group’s currently 30 firm orders (a mix of the base version CS100 and the larger CS300) will be deployed by SWISS. “Now, seven years and US$ 2bn later, we see the results”, Klühr enthuses. This year, the airline will receive nine CS100, with the next aircraft coming in August. Meanwhile, Latvian carrier Air Baltic will be the launch operator for the larger CS300 and is set to receive the first aircraft in September. SWISS puts 125 seats at 30’’ pitch in a 2-3 configuration in its CS100s, while it will accommodate 145 passengers in its larger CS300s.

swiss-cseries-first-debut (10)

The aircraft, fairly compact from the outside, has a wide body appeal from the inside, with its huge windows and ample cabin height. SWISS has taken cleverly designed new seats by German manufacturer ZIM, also responsible for Lufthansa’s premium economy seats on long-haul aircraft. The seats are upholstered in elegant brown leather, however the headrest is non-movable. The table at each seat is anchored in a single-hinge arm in the middle of the seatback, overcoming the usual two-armed tables. Two small, netted seat pockets on each side of the table arm are put to good use to hold a water bottle, for example. These being slim-line seats, the legroom of 30’’ is ample, even for larger people. Each seat has a silver, aluminium-look alike frame, including cleverly positioned coat hooks, that runs around it, marking the edge between leather on the front side and the carbon material of the back shell.

swiss-cseries-first-debut (11)

The window in the over-wing emergency exit doors is smaller than the other cabin windows, and the window shade here is cleverly divided into individual segments, but there is some resistance in trying to shut it easily to block the light out.

swiss-cseries-first-debut (6)

The most innovative feature to be found in the SWISS CS100 cabin, however, seem to be the mini screens integrated into the overhead passenger service unit, over each group of seats, meaning there are two per row. This is a great compromise between individual seatback screens, found on long-haul aircraft, and the dreaded bigger foldout screens every few rows, that are notoriously hard to see for many passengers, depending on their seat’s and the next screen’s position. While not used for IFE, the mini overhead screens are used to show the safety briefing before take-off and also the moving map to track the flight’s progress.

After the ceremonies ended, the day’s program called for the first demo flight with passengers on the Swiss CS100 in the afternoon.

But despite the legendary SWISS reputation for punctuality, this only got under way with a long delay. First Bombardier mechanics could be seen frantically opening access doors and employing large tools above the number two engine on the right wing. “Just a routine check, it will only take 20 minutes”, the Bombardier executives calmed any fears of a longer delay. In short, the flight labeled LX7540 got under way with a delay of almost 90 minutes, before Captains Daniel Nater and Markus Juchli, both Chief Flight Instructors for the CSeries at SWISS, took off from runway 19 and demonstrated both the low cabin noise as well as the immense thrust power of its “PurePower” PW1000 engines.

swiss-cseries-first-debut (8)

Fleet Chief Peter Koch was traveling in the cabin, explaining that this aircraft in an all-Business Class configuration could travel from London City airport nonstop to the East Coast of North America, unlike the Airbus A318 service of British Airways, making a West-bound fuel stop in Shannon on the way to New York-JFK. “For me, flying into and out of London City will be the most exciting part of my job at the controls of the CSeries”, enthused Koch.

After all necessary licenses and permits are granted, SWISS is slated to deploy the CSeries into London City Airport in the first quarter of next year. After Paris-CDG, Manchester, Prague and Budapest will be among the first cities in the Swiss network regularly seeing CS100 service. As more and more aircraft are added, the four-engined Avro Jets will be phased out by SWISS until July 2017. Already at the end of August of this year, Warsaw and Brussels will get CS100 services, followed in September by Nice, Stuttgart, Hanover, Milan, Florence and Bucharest. “Florence is another tricky airport with a short runway, surrounded by mountains”, explains Peter Koch.

swiss-cseries-first-debut (3)

On the demo flight, however, passengers only got treated to a very short, albeit spectacular glimpse of alpine scenery, including the Matterhorn peak, the Aletsch glacier and the Eiger massive. A planned formation flight with two F/A18 Hornet fighters of the Swiss Air Force was called off minutes before the imminent mid-air rendezvous, with many passengers worried about their connections from Zurich due to the delayed demo flight. After only 48 minutes in the air, HB-JBA landed back at Kloten.

If this, in an already much-delayed aircraft program, will remain the only significant delay during the introduction of the CSeries into commercial airline operations, SWISS and Bombardier will be hugely relieved. And passengers are in for a comfortable, smooth ride in line with the newest generation big airliners like the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350, a comfort level for the first time now to be found on short and medium haul routes.