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 while challenging the dominance of two industry giants.
Nearly 3,000 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 21/2 hours later after flying across the Lower Laurentians and conducting a flypast.
The company's test pilot left the airplane waving and lauding the aircraft's performance.
"It flew very well," said Chuck Ellis.
"It's a bit of a clich©, but it really did fly pretty much like our predictions, like the simulators, the models that we have," he told a news conference.
Mike Arcamone, president of Bombardier commercial aviation, said the flight will help to convince potential customers of the aircraft's value. The company faces competition from Airbus and Boeing that are putting new engines on their popular planes to preserve their market share. Embraer is also updating its E2 family of jets.
"I think it will get even more competitive, as people have seen across the world that there is an aircraft and it's an aircraft that is fulfilling its mission, which is to be a game-changer in terms of the engine," he said. The Pratt & Whitney engine promises to be quieter and help deliver fuel cost savings.
Analyst Walter Spracklin of RBC Capital Markets believes the program cost is "trending towards" $3.9 billion, but shouldn't have a material effect on Bombardier's (TSX:BBD.B) liquidity.
Arcamone created confusion about the final program cost when he said several times during the news conference that Bombardier was working to keep it below US$4 billion.
Officials corrected the total, initially saying it remains US$3.4 billion, with Bombardier contributing US$2 billion and $1.4 billion coming from suppliers and various governments in Canada and abroad. They later said the US$3.9-billion figure was correct because of new IFRS accounting rules that include US$500 million of capitalized interest that is amortized upon delivery.
Spracklin said the first flight will help Bombardier's share price while investors now focus on securing more orders. The company wants to have 300 firm orders from 20 to 30 customers by the time it enters service. That's up from 177 firm orders and 388 commitments to date.
Earlier, senior company executives hugged after the aircraft successfully took off nearly a decade after it was first introduced and following several delays. Company chairman Laurent Beaudoin and his son Pierre, the president and chief executive, said they were very pleased with the flight.
"It's very important for us and the aerospace industry," the elder Beaudoin said in an interview between hugs of congratulations and photos with employees.
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 27 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 observers say are likely. Deliveries are expected to begin a few months later.
-- The Canadian Press