Winning high marks

How much has Bombardier delivered on its C Series promises, and how are these aircraft proving themselves in actual service? James Careless interviews the two airlines currently using the C Series for commercial carriage.

The US government’s decision to impose a 220% punitive duty on Bombardier’s CS100/CS300 jetliners has totally distracted from the issue most important to the aerospace manufacturing industry; namely, how well are these cutting-edge aircraft living up to their advance billing?

After all, Bombardier previously told Aerospace Manufacturing that its C Series narrow-body passenger jets are up to 15% cheaper to operate and 20% more fuel-efficient than Airbus’ A319/A320 and Boeing’s 737. The company has also touted its ‘PC build’ plug-and-play approach to manufacturing the CS100s and CS300s as the key to keeping costs down without compromising finished quality.

Latvia’s airBaltic is currently flying seven CS300s, with 13 more due to be delivered and in service by the end of 2019. The airline plans to order at least 14 additional C Series aircraft, which will replace its Q400 NextGen turboprop aircraft. Eventually, airBaltic plans to have 34 Bombardier C Series aircraft in its fleet.

Switzerland’s Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) has eight CS100s and four CS300s in service, with further CS300s due to be delivered in the very near future. SWISS has firm orders for 18 more C Series aircraft. Its parent company Lufthansa has 30 options and 30 purchase rights for CS100s/CS300s.

Beyond expectations

Judging by what airBaltic and SWISS have to say, Bombardier’s C Series jetliners are living to their sales hype; both in overall manufactured quality and operational performance.

“The aircraft has performed beyond our company’s expectations, delivering better overall performance, fuel efficiency and convenience for both staff and the passengers,” said Pauls Calitis, airBaltic’s senior vice-president of flight operations. He added the CS300 is the greenest commercial aircraft in the world; with a “life-cycle environmental impact” that reduces “its CO2 and NOX emissions by 20% and 50% respectively” compared to similar jetliners.”

What about the C Series’ in-flight performance? “The feedback from our pilots has been very good,” Calitis continues. “Flying this aircraft makes them feel that the cockpit has been designed ‘by pilots for pilots’. The latest avionics and modern technologies that CS300 aircraft is equipped with are truly well appreciated by the company, and eases the daily duties significantly.”

SWISS is also pleased with the C Series’ overall manufactured quality and in-operations performance, but notes that there have been teething pains.

“The aircraft in operation is reliable and offers a high comfort for our passengers as expected, even though some suppliers have not yet reached the agreed quality level,” said SWISS C Series deputy fleet chief, Sven Thaler. “We only have had minor issues; for example, with the air-conditioning, de-icing, and with the cabin management system. In close collaboration with Bombardier, we have been able to address most of these issues. In general, we are very satisfied with the aircraft in operation.”

Good overall performance

Incorporating a new aircraft to the fleet can be a real challenge for any commercial carrier. Operating a new jetliner requires new tooling and parts support in maintenance, and new training for its technicians.

According to SWISS’ Thaler, the integrating of eight CS100s and four CS300s into SWISS’ fleet of Airbus A319/A320/A330-300/A340-300s and Boeing 777-300ERs (75 aircraft in all) has gone smoothly.

“The aircraft is maintenance-friendly and predictable,” said Thaler. “In addition, Bombardier has offered us comprehensive and qualified support so that we can look back to a relatively easy transition of a brand-new aircraft.” (The same training and support was provided by Bombardier to airBaltic.)

This said, some bugs remain in the C Series manufacturing process. Specifically, “Bombardier is still working on optimising its production pace to reach the planned quantities,” Thaler said. “Also, new insights about the construction and delivery process are constantly being evaluated. All in all, Bombardier offers a high-level product that can compete with the competition.”

airBaltic reports a similar positive experience in integrating the C Series into its flight and maintenance regimes. “With 145 seats, the new CS300 aircraft offers benefits for passengers such as wider seats, larger windows, more hand luggage space in the cabin, improved lavatories, among others,” said Calitis. “The new aircraft is also much quieter, with a four times smaller noise footprint.”

The fact that the CS300 is living up to its higher-capacity promises has allowed airBaltic “to increase the number of tickets available by 15%,” added Calitis. “airBaltic has already opened 12 new routes this year, and in late October will start flights to Abu Dhabi with the new CS300 aircraft. With the CS300’s longer range capabilities, lower fuel burn, and reduced noise emissions compared to other airliners in its segment, the aircraft will enable airBaltic to open new routes and connect people all across Europe.”

Over at SWISS, “the C Series aircraft delivered to date have been successfully put into service,” said Thaler. “The feedback from our pilots and cabin crews as well as our passengers is very positive: The passengers especially point out the bright and spacious cabin design.”

On the operational side, SWISS has become “very satisfied with the performance as our C Series aircraft consumed between 18-27% less fuel than our Avro RJ100 (phased out now) within the first year in service. This is better than agreed and expected. In addition, the technical reliability lies in the high nineties, which is a very good value for a newly-designed aircraft.”

The bottom line

From an aerospace manufacturing standpoint, the CS100/CS300 appear to be success stories. The high reliability, low maintenance, and adherence to performance standards/operation savings reported by airBaltic and SWISS show that Bombardier’s advanced manufacturing processes are delivering what the sales department has promised.

In fact, when asked to rate the manufacturing quality of the CS100/CS300, SWISS’ Thaler is unequivocal in his response: “In general, SWISS is very satisfied with the aircraft in operation,” he said. “The aircraft is absolutely in the position to compete with the competition.”

Mike Richardson :