Bombardier Inc. has started building its new Global 7000 luxury jet for initial customers, capitalizing on new factory systems to speed up manufacturing as it tries to get the plane certified and into service by the end of 2018.
The Canadian plane maker, which received $372.5-million in federal aid earlier this year – earmarked largely for the new Global jet – said it is running four Global 7000 planes through final assembly in Toronto. At the same time, three Global 7000 jets are in flight testing, with two others expected to join them shortly.
"The program's development and certification schedule is on track," Michel Ouellette, senior vice-president in charge of the Global 7000/8000 program, said in a statement to be released Monday. "Our confidence level is high."
The Global 7000, which sells for a list price of about $72-million (U.S.), and sister 8000 aircraft are Bombardier's biggest business jets. Their development is a key pillar of the company's turnaround plan as chief executive Alain Bellemare and his team aim to build a luxury-aircraft business that will generate a minimum 8-per-cent pretax margin on revenue of $10-billion by 2020.
It's not unusual for a manufacturer to start building the first units of an all-new aircraft for customers before testing on the plane is complete and it wins certification from regulatory authorities. But Bombardier says the build-up for the Global 7000 is happening faster than with previous aircraft, partly because of innovations it has introduced on the factory floor.
Those include the introduction of a special interiors test rig at a facility in Dorval, Que. The rig is a replica of the plane's actual fuselage. Using data collected from the flight-test aircraft, the rig simulates the kind of real-world conditions the plane will be subject to in order to determine the impact on the jet's highly-customized interiors.
"For the first time at Bombardier, we have a full fuselage that's testing interior installations that we can bend," said Bombardier spokesman Mark Masluch. "That is, for us, a kind of game-changer as far as keeping the [development] schedule."
Bombardier unveiled the Global 7000/8000 program in 2010 and initially hoped to bring the large-cabin jet to market by 2016. Just months after taking over as CEO, Mr. Bellemare pushed back the date to the second half of 2018, citing complexities with developing a new wing for the aircraft. The company faced a cash crunch at the time that analysts believe also contributed to the decision.
Industry analysts have questioned whether that new wing, a final version of which was only completed this year, would force the company to redo some of its previous flight-testing if authorities consider the new wing to be materially different. Bombardier says no retesting will be required because, though the wing is lighter, it has the same aerodynamics and design as the previous version.
Despite this, some industry observers remain skeptical that the company can meet the timeline it set for the plane's debut.
"It will be impressive if they can achieve full certification and entry into service by the end of 2018," said Rolland Vincent, a former Bombardier executive who runs an aerospace consultancy in Plano, Tex. "Bad things happen to good plans."
A two-year delay on the Global 7000 has cost Bombardier lost sales while industry-wide demand has cooled. "[Bombardier is] going to have to coast on its upfront order book and hope that market conditions improve," said Richard Aboulafia, of the Teal Group. The company says interest in the plane is strong given its unique combination of range and cabin size.
Bombardier has logged more than 500 flight-test hours on the new aircraft. As part of its trials, the plane has completed hot- and cold-weather environment testing and flown long-range over the North Pole.
The company will likely hire hundreds of people over the next two years to work on finishing the new Global planes' interiors and is communicating those needs to trade schools, Mr. Masluch said. Wood workers, upholsterers and other craftspeople will be among those sought out, he said.