MIAMI — Advanced technology and a global supply chain are factors industry experts say have caused entry into service (EIS) delays for aircraft manufacturers. On March 27, new Bombardier CEO Alain Bellemare announced that the CSeries CS100 EIS would slip into 2016, but the manufacturer is sticking with the planned certification date of the second half of 2015.
Bombardier has not been alone with EIS issues. In June 2005, Airbus announced that the A380 delivery date to Singapore Airlines would slip by six months, blaming complex wiring in the jumbo jet. Between July 2006 and October 2006, the manufacturer announced another four-month delay in the delivery of the A380 after discovering teams in Toulouse and Hamburg, Germany, using incompatible design software.
Boeing had its own issues with the 787 Dreamliner despite having record orders posted between launch and rollout, at 677. The Seattle-based manufacturer for the first time worked with a large number of suppliers and vendors across the globe in a bid to cut costs and speed up development on the 787. Boeing also used more composite materials to build the 787 than any other plane in its fleet and introduced the use of lithium-ion batteries, which had not been tested on aircraft.
The start of the Airbus A350 program was rough after customers nixed the original aircraft design, which was derived from the A330 widebody. But after criticism from its customers, Airbus switched course in July 2006 and announced the A350 XWB clean-sheet aircraft. Delivery of the first A350, to launch customer Qatar Airways, was delayed by nine days in December for undisclosed reasons.
Ernie Arvai, a partner at aviation consultancy AirInsight, said that manufacturers have different reasons for their delayed projects. “With the A380, it was the software issue, which caused a huge delay,” he said.
The 787 had many delays driven by new technology and rushed outsourcing, said Arvai. “Aircraft have become much more complex and software issues are much more complex,” he said. “Manufactures have to check millions of lines of software to make sure it’s correct and there are no back doors.”
Robert Mann is the founder of R.W. Mann & Associates, another aviation consultant. He said that delays come down to two issues. “One is technology. You’ve got customers looking for generational improvements of at least 15 percent in economic improvement. Airframe and engine manufacturers are struggling to figure out what to do to give airlines that reason to buy,” he said.
“If you’re just talking about a few tweaks to an aircraft and improvements of 2 to 4 percent on engine efficiencies, you can do that without investing much capital,” said Mann. “Or do you as a manufacturer respond for the need from the industry to go for that breakthrough technology with the 15 percent economic improvement.”
That’s the problem, said Mann. “Manufacturers commit to these levels of improvements after talking to airlines and governments and put together prospective order books based on this,” he said. “So they start cutting metal and putting it together and find it’s harder to do what you put in the slick brochure.
The marketing guys tell airlines anything to get the order, said Mann. “And then they tell the manufacturer’s engineers to get it done. You don’t ever want to tell anyone no, but sometimes you don’t know how long it will take,” he said. “Manufacturers go through a series of high-stake leaps in technology, and none of that is easy. It can be frustrating as hell, but not exactly surprising.”
Arvai agreed on the technology points and added that the expanded global supply chain now being used by manufacturers has been a secondary factor in EIS delays. “With international outsourcing, you’re going to have international players who may not have worked together before that may or may not have strong expertise, mainly learning as they go,” he said. “There are also communications issues, including time zones, language and culture as you put together pieces of the aircraft. Even Bombardier, which had global supplier experience through the Global jet, still had issues.”
In the old days, Boeing would announce an aircraft program and 48 months later, it was delivered, said Arvai. “The new norm for new aircraft programs is now six to seven year because of the complexity of new technology and aircraft systems,” he said.
But Mann thinks that technology and a global supply chain as problems are two separate issues. “For example, Boeing could have used existing technology and its global supplier program and still have had some of the same problems that ended up on the 787,” he said. “Some of the designs were not up to snuff, where you saw main parts of the 787’s wing joints not working as designed and assembled and having to redesign the whole thing. That’s why you have the terrible teens 787s that Boeing can’t get rid of.”
There was also the A380 wiring debacle, said Mann. “You only had to totally rewire the whole aircraft,” he said.
Bombardier is saying that the CSeries will be certified by the end of the year, said Arvai. “We’re looking at December instead of September for the aircraft to be certified. Seventy-five percent of the paperwork is certified and flight testing is going well,” he said. “The customer won’t accept the first CSeries until January and it won’t begin flying until February.”
Bombardier needs to make continued progress on the flight test program, and that’s under way, said Mann. “More flight training aircraft are in the program, and the engine lubrication issue seems to be solved,” he said.