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Bombardier Inc. has completed 85 per cent of the certification testing for its new C Series airliner and will meet a goal of 300 firm orders by the time it enters commercial service next year, executives said Thursday as the new jet airplane made its debut in Toronto.
Bombardier, which has demonstrated the plane in Montreal and Paris, showed off the aircraft to its employees in Toronto, as well as the press and local politicians who are considering letting it land at a downtown airport. A flypast at Toronto's Downsview airport, where Bombardier has a factory, demonstrated how quiet the new fuel-efficient airplane is.
Company officials had no news on any new orders for the plane, saying however that they expect firm orders will grow from the current level of 243 because of "tremendous momentum and interest" in the aircraft. "It is natural for some customers to take a little bit of a wait-and-see approach," said Fred Cromer, president of Bombardier's commercial aircraft division. Some may hold off until the plane is certified, expected by the end of this year, or until the plane enters commercial service next year, he said.
The C Series program is two years behind schedule and more than $2-billion over its initial budget estimate of $3.4-billion.
The smaller version of the plane, the 125-seat CS100, is expected to make its first commercial flight for Swiss International Air Lines in the first half of 2016, and the demonstration plane in Toronto was painted in the Swiss livery. The CS100's first test flight was in September, 2013, while the larger CS300 had its first test flight in February of this year. The bigger plane, which can accommodate as many as 160 passengers, will be certified later.
As well as the 243 firm orders for the C Series, Bombardier currently has commitments for another 360 planes. A now-departed management team had set a target of 300 firm orders by the time the plane enters commercial service. But Bombardier chief executive officer Alain Bellemare, who took over the top spot early in 2015, said this summer that the program could be successful even it falls short of that target.
Bombardier vice-president Robert Dewar, who heads the C Series program, insisted the company will hit that target by the time the plane is in service. "Sure we are going to make it," he said in an interview. Since showing the plane at the Paris air show in June, "I have personally seen a change in momentum. … with engagement of airlines and also with some of the number of orders that are under discussion," he said.
Bombardier hasn't announced any new firm orders for the C Series since September, 2014. One reason is that potential customers are waiting to see if the plane's performance is as advertised, and whether the roll-out schedule will be met, Mr. Dewar said.
Some analysts say some of the existing orders are "iffy" and could fall through. Republic Airways, which has ordered 40 C Series jets, is trying to avoid a bankruptcy protection filing that could scuttle its order.
"For the moment, all the customers that we said are firm, are firm," Mr. Dewar said.
Among the potential customers for the C Series is Porter Airlines, which currently flies turboprop aircraft out of Billy Bishop airport near downtown Toronto. The city has not yet decided if it will allow the larger jets to land there.
Deputy Toronto mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who attended the demonstration Thursday, said the aircraft was impressive but "council will decide" whether there is a place for it at the island airport, which would have to extend its runways to accommodate the C Series. He said sound levels will not likely be an issue, since the plane is "as quiet if not quieter" than planes currently landing at the airport.
The C Series planes put Bombardier in competition with giants Boeing and Airbus. The bigger airplane makers are now revamping their bestselling 737 and A320 jets to be more fuel efficient.
There is a chance Bombardier might eventually build a larger version of the C Series, with 160 to 180 seats.
Bombardier has projected the C Series planes could generate as much as $8-billion a year in revenue when it is in full production, helping to offset a decline in revenue from its mature regional jet program.
Swipe or click for more photos from the event. (Photos by Darren Calabrese for The Globe and Mail)