Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

An artist's rendering of Bombardier's C-series jet. (Bombardier Inc.)
An artist's rendering of Bombardier's C-series jet. (Bombardier Inc.)

Bombardier's C Series poised to take flight Add to ...

Some time late next year, a 20-tonne crane will lower a set of wings on to a truck at Short Brothers, the Bombardier Inc. airplane factory that sits a stone's throw from the shipyard that built the Titanic.

The wings will make the 14-kilometre journey over the Lagan River and around Belfast harbour to the freight docks and loaded on to a ship bound for Liverpool - a journey made necessary by the absence of a direct shipping link between the island of Ireland and North America. They will be transferred into the hold of another ship that will cross the Atlantic Ocean to Newark, N.J., then loaded back on to a truck for the final leg of the trip to Montreal.

At a new Bombardier plant near Mirabel Airport, the 16-metre-long wings will become a key component of one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken by a Canadian manufacturer: the aerospace and transportation giant's C Series airplane.

The $3.4-billion (U.S.) entry by Bombardier into the large airplane market has undergone as arduous and circuitous an odyssey as the wings will travel in getting to Canada from Northern Ireland.

After two aborted takeoffs, Bombardier's bid to enter the biggest airplane market is now rolling down the runway and is on target to rise into the air for its first flight in 2012.

"When you go after a new niche in an industry and you want to make something different and be innovative, it takes time and you don't always get it right at first," says Pierre Beaudoin, the company's president and chief executive officer.

The C Series is a daring bet that could vault Bombardier into the major leagues of aircraft manufacturing - or prove to be a costly mistake of company-altering proportions.

The single-aisle plane will boast a new, more fuel-efficient engine and is aimed mainly at older airlines anxious to replace their aging, noisy and fuel-guzzling aircraft with a plane that will chop their operating costs and make their fleets more green. It's also Bombardier's weapon in the battle for one of the key airline markets of the future: China.

The C Series, which could propel Canada into a tiny group of elite countries that build large commercial aircraft, comes as Canada's manufacturing sector is under assault as never before by competitors from low-cost countries.

If successful, the project could provide a blueprint detailing how Canadian manufacturers can win amid fierce global competition.

The Bombardier plan is to let others do the metal bashing, while retaining the work that demands the brainpower - design, innovation and final assembly - at home, taking advantage of Canada's educated work force and its own employees' long experience in putting together airplanes.

This model is Bombardier's only hope of performing a feat that has grounded other airplane makers: muscling in on the formidable duopoly of Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS.

"To be competitive, we have to work with low-cost countries, which we do, and we have investments in low-cost countries, but what makes the product possible is the know-how that we have in Canada," Mr. Beaudoin said.

Bombardier is famous as the company that brought the world the snowmobile when it was founded by Mr. Beaudoin's grandfather, Joseph-Armand Bombardier, in 1959.

Under his son-in-law, Laurent Beaudoin, father of Pierre, the company transformed itself into the third-largest airplane maker in the world. That leap began with its foray into the regional jet market in 1986, a step many judged too risky at the time, but one that played a key role in turning Bombardier into one of the few Canadian companies to become a dominant global player in its sector.

The C Series is the biggest and most complex plane the Montreal-based company has built and it's laden with technical and logistical challenges on a scale few manufacturers have undertaken.

In Belfast, China and several locations sprinkled throughout the Montreal area, 1,700 Bombardier employees are testing new materials, designing parts, honing manufacturing strategies and gearing up suppliers.

The fuselage, a critical part of the plane, will be assembled in Shenyang, China.

In a complex and painstakingly choreographed transoceanic ballet, the fuselages, wings and thousands of other pieces and systems will be shipped to a plant next door to Bombardier's regional jet factory at Mirabel airport for final assembly.

Report Typo/Error
Single page

Follow on Twitter: @gregkeenanglobe

Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular