Bombardier CSeries jet finishes first flight

09/16/2013 3:06 PM

09/16/2013 3:08 PM

Bombardier Inc’s CSeries jetliner on Monday successfully completed its first flight, a key step in a $3.9 billion program to develop the first all-new narrow-body plane of its size in decades.

The white-and-blue CS100 test aircraft landed beside the Bombardier plant in Mirabel, Quebec, shortly after noon Monday before a crowd of employees, media and spectators.

About 2 1/2 hours earlier, the plane rose from the tarmac amid cheers from onlookers, with surprisingly little noise from its new engines.

“You could hardly hear the take-off,” said Martin Gauss, CEO of Latvian carrier AirBaltic, which has ordered 10 of the larger CS300 planes, which seat 130 passengers.

“This was one of the reasons why we bought it, along with the cost savings from lower fuel burn,” he said by telephone after watching the take-off from a spot near the runway.

Bombardier says the CSeries, designed to carry up to 149 passengers, will be the world’s quietest commercial aircraft. It represents the company’s attempt to break into the hyper-competitive, larger-aircraft segment ruled by Boeing Co and Airbus.

Gauss said he would begin discussions with Bombardier about increasing the airline’s order by dipping into its options for 10 additional planes. AirBaltic has not yet decided how many of these options it will exercise.

Competing planemakers will look closely at the performance of the plane’s systems and components, most notably its PurePower PW1500G turbofan engine made by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of Connecticut-based United Technologies Corp.

“The CSeries has already caused an earthquake in the airliner industry,” said Michael Boyd, chairman of aviation consulting group Boyd Group International. “That’s what caused Boeing and Airbus to redesign their airplanes.”

The CSeries design offered much better economics than competing Airbus and Boeing jets at the time and prompted them to create new-engine versions of their respective A320 and 737.

The two big planemakers have won more than 3,500 orders for those planes, although only a small portion are for the smaller models that compete directly with the CSeries.

In contrast, CSeries sales have stalled at 177 firm orders, far short of Bombardier’s goal of 300 by the time the plane enters service next year.

Montreal-based Bombardier, which also makes trains, is trying to stake a claim on the single-aisle, 100- to 149-seat class that is midway between the regional planes and the larger commercial jetliners of Boeing and Airbus. It says it can corner half that market over the next 20 years.

Brazil’s Embraer SA, the world’s No. 3 planemaker, leads in sales of smaller, regional jets.

Bombardier also disclosed Monday that the cost of developing its CSeries jetliner had climbed to about $3.9 billion from its previous estimate of $3.4 billion.

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