Bombardier started 2014 with the first flight of the second CSeries test aircraft, nicknamed FTV2 on January 3rd.  Originally expected to fly about a month after the FTV1, which flew in September, this vehicle, like its brethren, was rumored to be delayed by software updates to the fly-by-wire system, but is finally airborne.

images-1There are two key reasons this flight test aircraft is critical:

First, Bombardier is behind schedule on flight testing, and needs all five aircraft to fly more frequently to complete the 2,500 hours required in the certification plan.  Currently, with FTV1 flying only four times in the first five weeks following the first flight, there is a lot of catching up to do on the schedule.  Most analysts now believe that Bombardier will not be able to meet its September 2014 delivery schedule to Malmo Airlines, which was scheduled for 12 months after first flight, and now consider first quarter 2015 to be more realistic given the progress in the flight testing program.  The rapid introduction of the other three flight test aircraft will help build confidence that Bombardier has overcome the final “unknown-unknown” delay to the program.

We note that it remains mathematically possible for Bombardier to meet its schedule – as five aircraft flying five hours per day could complete 2,500 hours in 100 days.  But that’s asking a lot, especially since data need to be analyzed between flights, faults corrected, and the paperwork process being completed as rapidly as possible.  We expect a lot of late nights for engineers gearing up for 24×7 flight test operations to make up time as much time as possible in the schedule – but getting back on schedule at this point is asking a lot.  Weather has slowed flight tests so far,  and the latest weather is simply awful.

Second, FTV2 will be the aircraft that verifies CSeries economic performance, including verification of fuel burn predictions.  While preliminary numbers look to be on track, FTV2 will be flying typical routes and loads by which performance can be confirmed.  Several potential customers, including Air Canada and Monarch, are waiting for actual performance data before committing to the aircraft, which FTV2 will provide over the next few months.  If the numbers prove out, we would expect a successful Farnborough Air Show.

Bombardier is 118 firm orders short of its goal for 300 orders by entry into service.  However, if existing options are converted, that goal would be easily met.  Securing some additional customers, and having an firm order and option book of more than 600 would go a long way to assuage analyst fears that the market has moved away from the 100-150 seat segment that produced more than 2,600 sales for the A319 and 737-700.

With so much riding on FTV2, it is encouraging to see it finally in the air, albeit three months after its expected first flight.

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