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Bombardier to resume C Series tests in push to meet delivery goal

A plane flies over a Bombardier plant in Montreal, Jan. 21, 2014.

Christinne Muschi/Reuters

Bombardier Inc.'s troubled new C Series plane is set to take to the skies once again after a flight-testing delay of more than three months following an engine failure incident.

Montreal-based Bombardier said on Friday that modified engines for the C Series flight test vehicles have successfully completed testing required for a return to flight.

The announcement comes amid a fine-tuning in the restructuring of Bombardier's aerospace division, announced in July, aimed at making sure the C Series and two new business-jet programs are introduced on time.

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"In spite of the [C Series] flight test program pause, we are still confident that entry-into-service will take place in the second half of 2015," Rob Dewar, vice-president of C Series program at Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, said.

Development risks remain high, given the fact the delay will likely end up lasting about four months before the first test plane goes up, meaning the company's apparent six-month buffer for unforeseen events is "quickly being sopped up," RBC Dominion Securities analyst Walter Spracklin said in a note Friday.

"Should Bombardier not have any additional development issues, the [second half of 2015] timing could be achievable. However, there are still questions as to the development of the full fly-by-wire system, as well as any other potential development issue that potentially could surface."

Bombardier said the C Series flight testing is to resume with Flight Test Vehicle 2 in September, but no precise date was given.

"Following the pause of the CSeries aircraft flight test program on May 29, 2014, [engine maker] Pratt & Whitney and Bombardier finalized a solution that Pratt has since incorporated into the engine's oil lubrication system," Mr. Dewar said.

Transport Canada has given the green light to go ahead with flight testing, the company said.

Besides the flight-testing slowdown, the C Series program has experienced other delays as well as cost run-ups, putting a damper on Bombardier's marketing efforts for the high-stakes aircraft.

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The program also suffered a blow recently when Sweden's Braathens Aviation AB said it will not take on the role of launch operator of the plane and is mulling other changes to its aircraft delivery schedule.

Goldman Sachs analyst Noah Poponak said in a note Tuesday that he believes another delay in entry-into-service is "inevitable."

It is highly unlikely that Bombardier will complete in time the 2,400 hours of flight testing it needs to do, given that it has only logged 330 hours since first flight in September, 2013, he said.

Meanwhile, Bombardier has appointed long-time employee François Caza as head of an engineering and product development unit being carved out of the newly created aerostructures division announced in July that saw the departure of aerospace president Guy Hachey.

Mr. Caza's new position is part of an effort to better ensure that three programs critical to Bombardier's future – the C Series, the new Learjet 85 and Global 7000/800 business jets – meet their entry-into-service deadlines, Bombardier Aerospace spokeswoman Isabelle Gauthier said.

"This is a clear, clear focus on our priorities and where the effort needs to go," she said in an interview Friday.

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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