Yesterday we had the chance to visit the C Series FAL in Mirabel again. Our last visit was well over a year ago.  The change since the last visit is palpable.

As part of the visit, we were taken to see the CRJ line.  Interest in the CRJ continues and we saw several CRJ900s being readied for Chinese airlines.  The CRJ is certified to operate in China.  One CRJ customer, China Express, has proven to be a good customer for Bombardier.  The experience this airline has had with the CRJ acts as a favorable reference for other Chinese airlines. This is especially the case with regional startups that cannot buy anything larger than a regional jet and operate to big hubs until they have 25 regional jets in service according to the new CAAC rules. Slow ARJ deliveries might help the CRJ in China.

What is especially eye-opening is where part of the CRJ line was before has been turned into C Series finishing space.  The CRJ requirements have been moved up above the current CRJ line.  CRJ wing assembly is now vertical rather than horizontal. Bombardier traded floor space for the CRJ by moving equipment higher up under the roof to a third floor.  In this new space, Bombardier had four CS300s being finished off.  The company has 18 CS aircraft all over, undercover, being finished off.

Visiting the CS FAL, we saw all six CS assembly positions full.  One of these had a Delta CS100 with its Wi-Fi antennae installed.  It was the only CS like this.  Doing this installation in the FAL saves the airline significant downtime (about a week). CS program boss Rob Dewar says the time taken to do this install is of little interruption for them but saves the customer precious time.

Then moving over to the CS customer delivery section we saw several painted aircraft ready for delivery.  We were allowed to walk on to a customer aircraft prior to delivery.  There is nothing quite like the smell of a new airplane.  During this alk through, we were told a customer was aloft doing their acceptance flight.  The place is busy.

All told Bombardier has 18 CS aircraft in close to or ready for delivery state.  The plan is to deliver 40 this year, which we had been skeptical of, but we now are of the view that it is indeed a reachable goal.

A customer delivery manager we spoke with expressed growing confidence in the improving quality of the aircraft.  Mr. Dewar noted that the challenges they have been facing are easing.  He noted the FAL is now running at the levels they wanted.  The challenge is to get the finishing done at a faster rate and get the aircraft already produced delivered.  Despite numerous media questions about Zodiac, Mr. Dewar would not throw anyone “under the bus”.  The customer delivery manager nodded in agreement and shared that everyone they have to deal with regarding cabin fixtures is behind.

Looking forward a few months to Farnborough we have some thoughts.  First, the odds are the CS aircraft that attend the event will probably be found at the Airbus chalet.  Next, we expect to see these aircraft repainted and renamed – perhaps A2XX?  Airbus would be smart to rename and relaunch the program.   This provides an unequivocal message to the market that the CS program now carries the full “faith and credit” of Airbus.

Clearly, nobody in Mirabel will say anything. Mostly because the next steps are not being controlled by Mirabel.  However, there is heightened excitement over what the next steps might be.  There is a general sense that the program is about to get a major boost.

Airbus is having a supply chain event soon.  Montreal has the world’s third-largest cluster and, even though its clear price cuts are coming, the potential for lots of orders is all anyone wants to talk about.

Since the Airbus deal was announced, CS orders went into a deep freeze.  Just like all of Montreal looks forward to the thaw after a long winter, the local aero cluster is looking forward to its own spring.

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