MONTREAL — It’s time for Bombardier Inc. to push the CSeries flight-test program to full throttle, Lufthansa Group executive Nico Buchholz said in an interview.
But he and Adam Scott, founder of fledgling London-based Odyssey Airlines, sloughed off the latest CSeries program delay announced in January, a much longer one than expected at up to 15 months, or by the end of 2015.
Buchholz and Scott are still fans of the airliner in development, they stressed. As executive vice president of fleet management for Lufthansa, which includes SWISS, formerly Swissair, Buchholz was the first CSeries customer in 2008, thereby launching the ambitious aircraft program that year.
Lufthansa has a firm order for 30 CSeries CS100 and an option for 30 more; Odyssey signed a firm deal for 10 airplanes.
Buchholz said he was not happy about the latest delay. “It’s really unfortunate that they are late, but it doesn’t change our perception of the quality of the aircraft.”
“Now they need to get the flight test done. The key issue now is how long does that test program take.”
“They need to finish their (CS100 110-seat version) program now in order to focus on the CS300 (130-seat iteration).”
“The engineering is basically done. So the question now is between Bombardier and the Transport Canada guys.”
The certification process overseen by regulator Transport Canada is stringent, lengthy and technically complex, involving thousands of parts and systems, many of them new to Bombardier, some of them brand new to any aircraft — like the Pratt & Whitney engine.
The flight test program is scheduled for about 2,400 hours, but Desjardins Securities analyst Benoit Poirier on Monday estimated that the three flight test vehicles in the air so far — there will be five eventually — have racked up only about 159 flight hours.
“We saw (the delay) coming,” Buchholz said. “It doesn’t change the decision fundamentally for us. The aircraft itself has not changed. And when we buy an aircraft, it’s for a long time — 20 years or more.”
Scott, whose plan for Odyssey Airlines is to start flying the CSeries non-stop from London City Airport to unspecified cities on North America’s east coast, said “I was in Montreal early this month and we were debriefed by Bombardier” on the flight test program.
“We’ll be with them again tomorrow in London. We’re comfortable with where the program is and where it’s heading. We’re confident with what Bombardier is doing with the project — and that they will meet and hopefully exceed their latest (2015) expectations.”
“From our perspective, the Bombardier approach, which is fundamentally to have a flawless EIS (entry into service with airlines), is one we’re quite happy with.”
“To us, it’s more important to have a successful EIS than a rush to it. We’re all realistic and understand the complexities and what Bombardier is trying to achieve. and what the CSeries represents.”
Bombardier says the aircraft will provide airlines with a 15-per-cent overall reduction in operating costs compared to similarly sized aircraft.
Some analysts have said Bombardier may have overestimated the delay in order to beat it handily, which would give the program good publicity.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they come in before their target,” Scott said. “I’m an optimist.”
Both executives declined to say what kind of discounts they may get in compensation from Bombardier for the late deliveries.