ZURICH — The stakes were high. It doesn’t happen often that a bunch of CEOs of some of the world’s most important airlines fly on one and the same aircraft. And unlike in other industries, where the top brass can never travel together in the air, the airline industry rather demonstrates its full confidence in an aircraft that is not in commercial service yet.
Such was the setting of flight BBA505 from Dublin to Zurich on June 3. As SWISS is the launch customer for the long-delayed Canadian twin jet, for the first time attempting to challenge Airbus and Boeing in their bread-and-butter market of 120-160 seaters, this was the perfect opportunity for Bombardier. The airline industry leaders had gathered this past week in the Irish capital for their annual meeting in the framework of IATA, followed by a Chief Executive Board meeting of all Star Alliance member airlines in Switzerland.
SWISS celebrates its tenth year as a Star member, and at the same time will operate the world premiere of this first all-new passenger jet in this category in decades on July 15. Belittled by Airbus salesman John Leahy only this week as “that cute little aircraft”, Bombardier called this special flight rightly “the most important take-off in the history of the CSeries.” Even after the recent mega-order by Delta Air Lines, Bombardier desperately needs to build trust and confidence in its product to attract more takers.
This flight was operated by the fifth of five test aircraft, called FTV5 and registered C-GWXZ, which had been on flying display already a year ago at the Paris Air Show. Fitted out with 118 seats in a single-class cabin, it does not yet have the product on board that SWISS will roll out to its customers in July. That will boast 125 seats by the German manufacturer ZIM.
What is striking is the difference between the pretty compact looks of the aircraft from the outside, almost like a regional jet, and it’s wide-body interior appearance. It comes in a unique 2-3 seat layout in every row, unlike Embraer’s 2-2 or Airbus and Boeing types’ 3-3 configuration. The cabin width of the CSeries is 3,28m, while an A320, with one seat extra per row, measures 3.70m.
This results in seats boasting a width of 18.5’’, even 19’’ for the middle seat, while an A320 seat normally is 17’’ wide. Business Class would be in a 2-2 arrangement on the CSeries and even 20’’ width. With its 2.11m high cabin ceiling and huge overhead bins, its no wonder the interior of the CSeries feels like a wide-body aircraft. Overhead space is sufficient for every passenger to bring a typical cabin bag and fit it in.
Start up of the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan PurePower engines takes four minutes, simply started by the turn of two switches on the pilot’s middle console near the thrust levers in the cockpit. During this phase it already shows what an extremely low noise the engines are emitting, even at take-off setting it is only slightly louder than the unbeatably silent A380 with its huge insulations inside the cabin walls. “It’s 2dB quieter inside the cabin here even than on our new A320neos”, explains Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr while on board.
With about 100 passengers, the aircraft has its highest load factor yet on this special flight, meaning that many rows are fully occupied. Still, even the seats in the back feel much roomier than they do in the rear cabin of Lufthansa’s A320neo with just 29’’ seat pitch there, while Bombardier advertises 120 seats in a standard single class layout on the CSeries would offer a 32’’ pitch. SWISS will install 125 seats on its CS100 with a pitch of 30’’.
Take-off is very swift; Captain Esteban Arias pulls up the aircraft very rapidly, demonstrating its power reserves even on a fairly full flight like today. He later points out to Airways on the flight deck that its these reserves that make it possible for the CSeries to serve airports with short runways like London City. On this sunny afternoon it’s obvious how much light enters the cabin through the big windows, which are a full 50% larger than on an Airbus A320, conceived in the mid-1980s, as Bombardier makes sure to point out on board. Also the aisle is the widest found in twinjets with 20’’.
Once flight BBA505 reached cruising altitude, Rob Dewar, Bombardier’s General Manager CSeries, points out in a speech that the aircraft has a range of 3,300nm, almost 6,000km, “that would be enough to do Dublin to Montréal nonstop, and that’s in fact where we are going today”, he jokes. Then pointing out that the actual trip to Zurich of one hour and 50 minutes flying time consumes less than 2,900kg of fuel – “meaning about 35% less than an Airbus or Boeing twin would need”.
After a scrumptious meal with three hot entrée choices on this special flight, which the two flight attendants having a hard time to distribute to all passengers in the available time, all too soon the aircraft descends to land in Zurich. The first flight ever of the CSeries with non-Bombardier staff, save one demo flight to Delta in Atlanta with some of their management, seems to have been a big success.
Right the next day, SWISS announced it is now switching its orders and options in a way that until 2018, it will operate 20 larger CS300s with 145 seats, the first of which is due to arrive in the first quarter 2017, and ten smaller CS100s. This year, the carrier will get nine CS100s, with a total of eleven of both versions due next year and the remainder in 2018.
One thing is for certain: SWISS passengers on routes so far served by the venerable Avro jets are in for quite a ride on the first brand new commercial jet of this size the world has seen in many years. Indeed a cute aircraft, but not little at all, once seen from the inside.
Don´t miss our coverage on July 15, when we will be taking you on the first SWISS CSeries’ inaugural flight, flying from Zurich to Paris CDG.