MIRABEL, Que. – Bombardier’s CSeries aircraft completed its maiden flight Monday, in a successful test run of a new narrow-body airplane design that promises to support Canada’s aerospace sector and its thousands of jobs.
Thousands of employees, suppliers and invited guests cheered as the gleaming CS100 plane quietly lifted off the runway at Mirabel airport north of Montreal in sunny skies after early morning rain ended and heavy clouds dissipated. It landed about 2 1/2 hours later after conducting a fly past.
The pilot exited the test airplane waving and lauding the aircraft’s performance, save for one unspecified “minor problem.”
“It went very well,” Chuck Ellis said.
Earlier, senior company executives gave each other big hugs after the aircraft successfully took off, nearly a decade after it was first introduced and following several delays over nearly nine months.
Company chairman Laurent Beaudoin and his son Pierre, the president and chief executive, said they were very pleased with the inaugural flight.
“For me it’s a great day, a new step in Bombardier today,” the elder Beaudoin said in an interview in between hugs of congratulations and photos with employees.
“It’s very important for us and the aerospace industry.”
Bombardier aerospace president Guy Hachey said the flight was very emotional for him.
“My heartbeat was going quite fast and a lot of thoughts in my mind about how important this is and how long we’ve been working at this and how important it’s going to be for the future of the company,” he said.
He said the CSeries is the world’s first new narrow-body design in 26 years. It’s also the first major Canadian-designed aircraft since the Avro Arrow.
The first 110- to 125-seat CS100 is slated to enter into service in about a year, barring delays, which industry observers believe are likely.
The president and CEO of Toronto-based Porter Airlines, which is planning to use CSeries jets to expand its service from an enlarged island airport near Canada’s largest city, said he’s looking forward to receiving test data to confirm the engine’s are as quiet as expected — and to silencing some critics.
“I think the test data that Bombardier will be able to produce now that this test program is underway should flow to the city (of Toronto) and help validate in due course the information it needs to give the approval,” said Porter chief executive Robert Deluce.
The maiden flight lasted longer than normal, allowing onboard systems to measure some 14,000 metrics. A total of seven test planes will be built and complete unique missions as the company moves to the production stage.
The $3.5 billion program has employed about 800 engineers and design officials to date, but hiring will soon begin as some 3,500 workers assemble the aircraft in Mirabel. Plans call for between 120 and 240 planes a year being built with parts from Belfast, Northern Ireland and China.
Analyst Walter Spracklin of RBC Capital Markets believes the program cost is “trending towards” $3.9 billion, but shouldn’t have a material impact on Bombardier’s (TSX:BBD.B) liquidity.
He said the first flight will help Bombardier’s share price, while investors now focus on efforts to secure more orders. The company wants to have 300 firm orders from 20 to 30 customers by the time it enters into service, up from 177 firm orders and 388 commitments to date.
Shares in Bombardier were trading up 7.5 cents, or one and a half per cent, at $5.065 on the Toronto Stock Exchange after the flight Monday.
The test plane hadn’t even landed when industry observers began to talk about a larger version that would further challenge the world’s two largest manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus.
“You always start to dream when you have an aircraft like this and you say it should have more seats,” said Rainer Hilterbrand, chief operating officer of Swiss Airlines, which has firm orders for 30 CS100 and CS300 aircraft.
“That will come for sure…I think we will discuss and Bombardier will discuss this as well because it’s so clear that you should take it even more efficient with 160 seats or even more,” he said, adding that low noise and up to 25 per cent fuel efficiency are key for the European carrier.
Laurent Beaudoin said the CSeries can be enlarged eventually, although he wouldn’t say if that decision will be made.
“For the time being we are looking to be in the class by our self in between 100 and 160 seats.”
Karl Moore of McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management doesn’t doubt that a larger version will ultimately be built
“Given the market they are going after to make it bigger would make sense over time to compete more with the (Boeing) 737 and Airbus 320 and all,” he said.