MONTRÉAL — Almost five years after the initial deal between Bombardier and airBaltic was struck, the first serial aircraft of the stretched CS300 version of the CSeries was unveiled at Bombardier’s Montréal plant in Mirabel, Quebec this week.
Resplendent in the white and light-green livery of airBaltic, the aircraft to be registered as YL-CSA (MSN 55003) will get its 145-seat cabin interior installed in the coming weeks. Then, it will do its first flights before delivery to the launch operator by late November. airBaltic and Bombardier had an almost symbiotic relationship in their deal for 20 firm orders of the new aircraft, signed in December 2011.
Both sides were desperate back then: Bombardier urgently needed commitments of buyers for their slow-selling new proposed CSeries jets, and airBaltic, flag carrier of Latvia and de facto national carrier of all three Baltic states, was keen to get their hands on replacements for their aging fleet of 12 Boeing 737-300s and -500s, while facing record losses back in 2011.
Now, Bombardier is better off with having delivered the first three CS100s to SWISS since July, where it saw an almost flawless entry into commercial service. The third Swiss aircraft registered HB-JBC just started flying this week, at the same time of the event in Mirabel. And airBaltic is profitable again after a restructuring and happy with the deal it struck back then: “We probably got one of the best deals ever with Bombardier”, says CEO Martin Gauss in talking to Airways.
Despite headlines in Canada about the second time Bombardier slashes over 7,000 jobs this year, however mostly in its train unit, and constant talk about how unprofitable the big CSeries deals with Delta Air Lines and Air Canada have been to the manufacturer, its top management is upbeat: “The momentum for the CSeries continues to build, we will probably have two more new customers this year”, said Bob Dewar, VP CSeries, in talking to Airways, “our challenge is more the ramp-up and keeping the delivery schedule.”
Due to delays in deliveries of the PW1500 engines made by Pratt & Whitney, Bombardier had to slash this year’s deliveries from 15 to just seven aircraft. Two of these will be the first CS300s for airBaltic, and the remaining aircraft will be CS100s for SWISS. The fuselage of the CS300 is stretched by 3.70 meters vs. the base model. The current order book stands at a lacklustre 358 firm, of which 123 are for the CS100 and 235 for the CS300.
“2017 will be a really big year for the C Series”, stressed Colin Bole this week, SVP Commercial at Bombardier.
Martin Gauss of airBaltic underscored his satisfaction with his airline becoming the first CS300 operator worldwide. “Airbus did their utmost for us to take the A319neo instead, but that wouldn’t have been so good for airBaltic, as the CS300 has the best operating cost in its class,” he said.
Gauss is pleased that the CS300 will burn 17 to 20% less fuel than the current 737s in his fleet. “We compared it initially with the A319neo and the Boeing 737 MAX 7, but none can compete with the CS300, as they are too heavy.” Also it wasn’t just about the unit price to buy the aircraft, “we have to compare the total price of operation as we intend to have these aircraft for 20 years”, says Gauss.
The Latvian carrier will equip its cabins with SlimPlus seats by Zodiac, a supplier encountering severe delivery delays as well, though not in this case. The seats haven’t been installed inside the first production aircraft as of yet, though, as airBaltic wasn’t satisfied with its leather finish. The seats in a 2+3 layout per row will have 30’’ pitch, although all Air Baltic aircraft are configured with two-class cabins.
According to the CEO, the CS300 passenger cabin“Will have a curtain divider, in Business Class the neighbouring seat will always be free”, says Gauss. Air Baltic will also be the first airline to provide a full-mood lighting feature on its CS300, “the same as many wide bodies have on long haul routes.”
For Air Baltic’s Senior VP Flight Operations Pauls Calitis, preparations for the CSeries started about a year ago. “It was very unique as we contributed to shape operational procedures for the aircraft as one of the launch operators in a working group together with Swiss and Bombardier, we created the checklists together for example.”
Calitis is very happy with what the CSeries offers, “all of the newest and best design has been put into it, the CSeries is equipped with everything that’s out there.” Air Baltic, in contrast to SWISS, has not opted for head-up displays (HUDs) for the cockpit, “SWISS needed it for steep approaches, but we don’t”.
On the other hand, airBaltic plans to take full advantage of the satellite-based (GNSS) approach capability the CSeries offers. “And it makes a big difference that the C Series is designed around it, instead of it just being added on”, says Calitis. “We plan to use it in airports where it’s available, Riga airport is pushing it, as it saves fuel and time and is more precise for pilots and ATC.”
Pauls Calitis will also be at the controls of the first CS300 delivered. The plan calls to leave Mirabel for Stockholm-Arlanda on November 28 for a night-stop. This is done in order to make for a daylight arrival into Riga the following day. When the weather plays along, the newest arrival will be greeted by an escort of two Boeing 737s flying alongside before touchdown. Followed by a big gala evening event at Riga airport for 3,000 invited guests.
The first destination for scheduled flights with airBaltic’s first CS300 is supposedly Amsterdam in mid-December. To build flight hours for cockpit crews, the route portfolio for the first aircraft will be varied, a mix of longer routes such as Amsterdam, Munich and Zurich, complemented by shorter hops from Riga to Stockholm, Helsinki, Vilnius and Tallinn.
But airBaltic has more in stock: In the medium-term future, the Latvian carrier will fly to the Arabian Gulf with the CS300, either to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, the latter was already included in the recent route proving operation. Westbound from the Gulf back to Riga, this means a flying time of about six hours, which the CS300 can do without weight penalty.
airBaltic is even thinking beyond, at least in theory. Calculations have shown that, if the carrier would also take the CS100, not on order currently, it could probably even do Riga-New York, albeit in a 48-seat all-Business Class cabin.
The arrival of the new aircraft clearly is letting airBaltic’s aspirations fly.