Canada's Bombardier joins dogfight for jet market with new plane

Bombardier challenges its rivals
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Story highlights

  • Canadian aircraft manufacturer set to test fly new C-series commercial jet
  • Company hope it will challenge single-aisle jets of bigger rivals
  • Over $3 billion invested in developing the new plane; industry is worth $2 trillion
  • There are orders for 350 planes already, say company

Bombardier is not a name many associate with commercial flight. The Canadian plane manufacturer, which for years has based its business on its smaller, regional jets, has not traditionally been in a position to challenge the likes of Airbus and Boeing when it comes to providing larger carriers.

All of that could to change, however, as the company is scheduled to test fly its first C-series jet this June.

Bombardier is banking a lot on their new planes, which cost them $3.4 billion to produce. The sizable investment seems paltry, however, when compared to the size of the market they hope to penetrate: aircraft that seat 100 to 150 make up a $2 trillion industry.

Bombardier is hoping to scoop up half of that. With their C-series priced considerably below their competition (the $61 million price tag is 30% cheaper than what Airbus and Boeing charge for similar models), they stand a pretty good chance.

"It's an aggressive world. We've got to differentiate ourselves with the right product," notes Mike Arcamone, the president of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft.

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The company claims the new planes will not only burn 20% less fuel, but will also have 25% fewer operating cost than their rivals'. They've already pulled in over 350 orders, with Korean Air, airBaltic and Luxair first in line to add the planes to their fleet.

First, however, the new planes need to undergo certification, a process that is expected to be much more stringent in light of the recent problems of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Robert Dewer, the vice president and general manager of Bombardier's C-series, insists they aren't jumping the gun.

"It's actually a thin line where you have to support the flight test plan as fast as you can, give yourself the flexibility to introduce any changes that may arise, and at the same time be ready to ramp up the production aircraft as soon as possible," he says.

Moreover, he expects the new planes will pass with flying colors.

"We already have a very rigorous process. We throttle (each plane) more than any aircraft will see in its entire history. We pull (the wings) up, pull them down, add weight to them and take them right to the point of breaking."

The planes, he says, must be 150% stronger than the worst forces they could face during a flight.

Furthermore, when presented with the opportunity to use a lithium battery back in 2011, Bombardier instead opted for something more conventional.

"We studied (the battery) quite extensively," says Dewer. "We decided in the end that the technology was really not mature for us. It was a risk versus reward (scenario), and there was a lot of perceived risk."

The company has also introduced a couple of features that will make flying easier and safer for pilots, most notably the screen area in the flight deck is more than double the surface area than on other aircraft.

"The advantage of that is that you can have more information available to the pilot directly, without having to cascade menus," explains Dewer. "You always want to lower the pilot's workload so that he can really manage the aircraft well."

It's too early to tell if Bombardier's gamble on the new series will pay off, but Arcamone is optimistic about their chances.

"We've just started to fight," he says. "We said we were going to have about 300 firm orders when the aircraft goes into service. We are well on our way to achieving that objective."

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