December has been a truly eventful month for both Bombardier’s CSeries program and airBaltic, the CS300 launch operator.
Earlier this week, the CS300 has received its type validation by the FAA (adding to the ones that it already had from Transport Canada and the European Aviation Safety Agency), the very same day that launch operator airBaltic completed the first ever revenue service of the type.
Letter from Riga
This two major milestones of the CSeries program were preceded, earlier this month, by a major event in Riga, the home base of airBaltic, marking the arrival of the first operational CS300 aircraft.
Proof of the relevance the entry into service of the CS300 has for the Latvian carrier is the high profile and large scale of the reception ceremony, that was held at airBaltic’s facilities at Riga international airport and gathered some 2,000 guests, including the president of the country, Raymonds Vejonis.
A spectacular light-and-music show preceded the unveiling of the aircraft, which was followed by the official hand-over to airBaltic, with the required ribbon-cutting.
After that, all those present had their chance to get on-board the CS300 for the first time, not without having to stand on a queue for a bit, such was the expectation that the CS300 generated!
Up in the air with airBaltic’s CS300
Seeing the aircraft in a static display is one thing, getting to fly on the very first flight with full passage is quite another.
The evening’s reception ceremony was a foretaste of what some of us would be able to experience the next day, when the CS300 would take us on a special 1.5h flight over the Latvian space, departing and arriving at Riga International Airport.
During this flight we were able to enjoy some of the most remarkable features of Bombardier’s newest airliner, namely its quietness and ergonomics, but also the spectacular cabin mood lighting, that we manage to experience in all its magnificence as it switched successively to red, blue, green, yellow…
All of these factors contribute to the impression that the CS300 is “a narrow body with a wide-body feel”, as a fellow passenger noted.
Aside from this overall positive feel, figures seem to be on CSeries side too.
At a Q&A session with the media prior to the demonstration flight, Bombardier’s Fred Cromer, president Commercial Aircraft at Bombardier and Robert Dewar, VP-General Manager for the Bombardier CSeries program, confirmed that operational data points towards the CSeries exceeding performance expectations, particularly when it comes to fuel consumption. The CSeries may retain a 10% efficiency advantage vs A320neo and B737 MAX.
Bombardier is, actually, updating its product brochure to reflect this better-than-advertised performance, which is quite unusual for an entirely new commercial aircraft program.
Mr.Dewar explained how, initially, Bombardier expected entry into service to be the main challenge. This has ultimately not been the case. Although Bombardier has left the GTF engine issues behind, supply chain constraints appear to be, now, a more pressing issue. However, he remained confident, that Bombardier will be able to deliver 30-35 CSeries aircraft next year.
airBaltic: high expectations
In addition to the aircraft that has just entered service, before the New Year a second CS300 is expected to arrive in Riga. These will be the first two of the 20 CS300 that airBaltic has on order. The Latvian carrier will then progressively phase out all its Boeing 737 (Classic series) to become an all-Bombardier operator, with Q400 turboprops complementing the CS300 on thinner regional regional routes.
airBaltic’s CEO, Martin Gauss, explained how the airline is eager to take advantage of the extra range and favorable economics provided by the CS300 to launch routes to new destinations that consolidate their hub operation at Riga. In particular, they are looking at the Gulf region, the broader Middle East and regional cities deep inside Russia.
He remarked how the CS300 makes it possible to reach many new points comfortably from Riga. “The ferry flight from Canada made a planned stopover in Stockholm, but not because it was technically needed, we had enough fuel left to make it all the way to Moscow”. The CS300 will also be deployed on flights to European destinations from the other Baltic capitals, Vilnius and Tallinn, where airBaltic is currently growing.
Mr.Gauss also referred to the current search for a strategic investor, that brings long term stability to the airline after its recent turn-around.