The CSeries jet built by Bombardier completed its first flight Monday, advancing the Canadian plane-maker’s ambition to challenge Boeing and Airbus by expanding beyond small regional jets.
It features new fuel-efficient Pratt & Whitney engines, a carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic composite wing built in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and a metal fuselage built in Shenyang, China.
Final assembly is in Montreal, where the 2½-hour test flight began shortly before 10 a.m. EDT.
The plane’s engines and lightweight construction promise about 20 percent better fuel efficiency than today’s narrowbody jets.
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The CSeries program, first launched in 2004, was suspended two years later for lack of orders. Relaunched in 2007, the program has secured only 177 firm orders.
Last year, the first flight was pushed out by six months due to assembly problems at its suppliers.
The flight this year had been scheduled for June but was delayed again when systems and software upgrades didn’t come together in time.
The CS100 that took to the air Monday is a 110-seat model. If all goes well in flight test, it’s to enter service toward the end of 2014 or early 2015.
With the second, 130-seat model, called the CS300, planned to follow about a year later, Bombardier would move into the market segment of the smaller planes built by Boeing and Airbus.
That larger version will compete with Boeing’s 737 MAX 7 and Airbus’ A319neo, which are similarly revamped with new fuel-efficient engines but are not to enter service until 2019 and 2018, respectively.
Sales have gone extraordinarily well for the two rivals’ updated single-aisle families — but not in the smallest sizes comparable to the CS300.
Boeing has only 30 firm orders for the MAX 7 out of almost 1,500 MAX sales. Airbus has just 45 orders for the A319neo out of total neo sales of almost 2,400.
So Bombardier’s major competition for this market may be neither Boeing nor Airbus, but Embraer of Brazil, which in June launched a new family of revamped regional jets with the same new Pratt & Whitney engines as the CSeries. Its 106-seat and 132-seat versions are planned to enter service in 2018 and 2019.
Despite the planned delivery two or three years ahead of those three rivals, the CSeries has failed to gain significant sales ahead of its first flight.
Now that the plane is finally flying, the year ahead will show whether a big enough market exists for jets this size, as Bombardier believes.