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CSeries still targeted to enter service in 2015

July 4, 2014, Montreal -  Despite the May 29 turbine failure on Bombardier Inc.’s CSeries, which grounded the fleet of test vehicles, the airliner in development will meet its 2015 target of entry into service with airlines, the company said.


July 4, 2014
By The Montreal Gazette

Bombardier Aerospace spokesman Marc Duchesne said
Friday that “we’re working hard with Pratt to settle the root cause so
we can get back in the air as soon as possible. There is an enormous
pressure on the Pratt team, as there is on the CSeries team.”

 

Despite the contretemps, the plane will be available to airlines by the second half of 2015, he said.

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The
full, official explanation by Pratt & Whitney will go a long way to
determine the gravity of the problem.

 

But until then, rampant — even
wild — speculation is de rigueur.

 

Will the May
29 engine-turbine failure in ground testing at Mirabel be just another
of the many bumps in the road, par for the course for a new-technology
airliner in development? Or does it presage bigger issues for the
already delayed aircraft?

 

Could the problem be
more serious than generally assumed, given that there was another, less
talked-about, incident only weeks earlier? In that April 29 episode, a
Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan (GTF), the engine the CSeries will
use, was embedded on a test aircraft and suffered a mishap on takeoff at
Mirabel, forcing the Pratt & Whitney B747 test plane and its crew
of 14 to land — safely. Airport officials called it a fire, but Pratt
and Bombardier officials said there is no proof a fire occurred.

 

The four CSeries flight-test aircraft were grounded until further notice after the May 29 incident.

 

Most aviation specialists say that such problems are normal, even routine.

 

“That’s
why these things are tested for thousands and thousands of hours on the
ground,” said Will Alibrandi, an aircraft engine analyst with Forecast
International of Newtown, Conn.

 

“If you’re going to have an engine failure, you want it to happen during development testing, not after certification.”

 

The
good news, Alibrandi added, is that the “uncontained failure” in the
turbine that also damaged one of the Bombardier’s prototype CSeries
flight-test vehicles, did not originate in the engine core — the unique
new-technology gearbox that is designed to provide the CSeries with big
savings on fuel consumption. That’s the CSeries’ biggest selling point,
and a fundamental engine problem requiring a wholesale rethink could
have been catastrophic for Bombardier — and Pratt.

 

But
reassurances from the company and many others have not quelled the
rumour mill. Perhaps the most provocative one came from one Montreal
aerospace executive, president of a successful and fast-growing firm
that works with all the world’s major aircraft-makers. He told The
Gazette recently that “many people in the industry know that these
problems don’t date from yesterday. It’s not the first fire.”

 

People
close to the flight-test program have told him that “the problem is the
stop-and-go. A plane lands, turns off the engine, passengers get off,
others get on, and you go. This sequence is not working well with their
engine. It’s like they always have to keep in movement — always ready to
take off, like a plane on an aircraft carrier.”

 

The
executive then unloaded a bombshell: He has heard from several
knowledgeable sources, he said, that Bombardier and General Electric Co.
have talked seriously about GE replacing Pratt & Whitney as its
engine supplier.

“GE is working very, very hard to supplant Pratt as the supplier,” said the executive.

 

“There are jobs posted internally for a program that would replace Pratt’s GTF. GE engineers are already working on that.”

 

Those rumours, however, were met with a chorus of incredulity and scorn by analysts — and by GE.

Deb Case, spokeswoman for GE Aviation in Cincinnati, Ohio, said that “we haven’t been asked by Bombardier.”

 

“Unthinkable,” said Alibrandi.

 

Not least of the problems with those whispers is that GE does not make an engine that would suit the CSeries.

 

The
second obvious obstacle is that the CSeries itself was designed largely
around Pratt & Whitney’s GTF.

 

Both are untested technologies and
their fortunes are intertwined to a large extent.

 

“I just don’t believe it,” said Scott Hamilton of Leeham Co. LLC of Seattle.

 

“Beyond
the fact that GE doesn’t have an engine in that category and that the
plane’s been designed around the GTF, it would push the whole program
back years.”

 

Richard Aboulafia, a consultant with Teal Group of Fairfax, Va., said in an email that “I too find it outlandish.”

“Conceivably,
(Bombardier) may have asked for a smaller LEAP (GE’s own new-technology
engine under development) to be developed, but I doubt it would be
possible in time (or that GE would do it).”

 

“I doubt (Bombardier) would do that, and if they did, heaven help them.”

 

The
latest program setback pushed the CSeries’ entry into service to the
second half of 2015, a more significant delay than most aviation people
had expected.

 

Bombardier spokesman Marc
Duchesne called the question about replacing the CSeries engine supplier
at this late date “surprising, to say the least.”

 

“Pratt’s engine is the right engine for that aircraft. So, um, no.”

 

The 2015 entry-into-service target will be met, he reiterated.

 

Neither
Duchesne nor Pratt & Whitney spokesman Ray Hernandez could say when
the definitive root causes of the engine fire and its fixes might be
announced.

 

Alibrandi said that “Pratt probably has a team working on a fix 24/7.”

 

Hernandez
said in an email that after a thorough examination of the failed
engine, the company found that “a slight design modification would allow
for continued ground testing.”

 

But it isn’t known what, precisely, that entails, and whether further modifications are necessary to resume flight testing.

 

One
source, who declined to be named, said that Bombardier will announce
soon that it will resume the CSeries’ test flights within days.

 

Bombardier
chairman Laurent Beaudoin said two weeks ago that the flight-test
program would probably restart by the end of June — Monday. But Duchesne
said that “we’re saying flights will restart in the coming weeks.”

 

The
engine problem may have been Pratt’s, but paradoxically, it’s probably a
bigger deal for Bombardier than for Pratt, said Alibrandi.

 

“(Brazil’s)
Embraer has a much bigger share of the regional-jet market than
Bombardier, (European turboprop firm) ATR is outselling Bombardier’s
turboprops, so this is big.”

 

“Bombardier has bet big on the CSeries — they need that program to be successful,” said Alibrandi.

“So I am confident that Pratt will get to the bottom of this and make the fix.”