Bombardier CSeries 2012 Debut Flight at Risk on Controls

Bombardier Inc. (BBD/B)’s goal of a first flight in 2012 for the CSeries jet is at risk as it struggles with developing electronic cockpit controls, the planemaker’s aerospace chief said.

The company has enough time to meet the target, while additional delays would imperil that schedule, Bombardier Aerospace President Guy Hachey said yesterday in an interview in London before the Farnborough air show starting tomorrow.

“There’s no margin left to first flight,” Hachey said. “Right now we’re still driving for first flight by the end of this year.”

The CSeries will be the first jet from Montreal-based Bombardier to fully adopt a so-called fly-by-wire system, which translates pilots’ commands into electronic impulses that activate flight controls. Bombardier has dispatched a team to work with the developer, Parker Hannifin Corp. (PH), Hachey said.

While progress is being made, it’s not clear whether the improvement will be enough to meet Bombardier’s original timetable, Hachey said.

“The challenge is on the systems side, mostly the fly-by- wire,” he said. “That’s the one that’s giving me most concern now.”

Bombardier is targeting the CSeries for the smaller end of the narrow-body jetliner segment dominated by Airbus SAS and Boeing Co. (BA) Designed to carry 100 to 145 passengers, the plane has been set for a late-2012 debut flight and entry into commercial service 12 months later.

First Delivery

Hachey said Bombardier has enough margin left in the schedule to meet the goal for the CSeries’s commercial delivery.

Even as Bombardier fights with the issues of excess weight common to all new planes in development, the CSeries will still meet performance guarantees to customers, Hachey said. The plane’s geared turbofan engine from United Technologies Corp. (UTX)’s Pratt & Whitney unit is performing to plan, “hitting fuel burn numbers” and completing 1,600 hours of tests, he said.

Orders total 138 so far. Analysts including Doug Runte, a managing director at Piper Jaffray & Co. in New York, have said the success of the CSeries is in question because it’s trying to crack an Airbus-Boeing duopoly and is entering a niche in which other planemakers have failed.

Hachey said potential buyers may have been spooked by delays for Boeing on its 787 Dreamliner and on the Airbus A380. A weak economy damps demand as well, he said.

“We’re also in a recession,” he said. “We’ve been for four years in a pretty tough environment.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrea Rothman in Toulouse at aerothman@bloomberg.net; Robert Wall in London at rwall6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at bkammel@bloomberg.net; Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net

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