MONTREAL - Bombardier may get around Quebec's sometimes severe winter weather by conducting some flight tests of its new CSeries commercial aircraft in the United States, at the same location where its new Learjet 85 business jet is set for its maiden flight in the coming weeks.
Program general manager Rob Dewar told an aerospace forum that the Montreal-based aircraft manufacturer plans to use its facilities in Wichita, Kan., if cold, snow and low clouds persist at its main testing centre in Mirabel, Que.
Although the flight testing will be primarily based in Mirabel, the manufacturer plans to use its U.S. facilities to continue accumulating the required hours of testing before the aircraft can gain certification.
"If we have a week of solid snow storms here, then it's difficult to get credit because you have to have the right environment conditions," he said in an interview after addressing Aero Montreal's aerospace innovation forum.
In addition to occasional testing of the first two flight test vehicles, Wichita will be used to test the complex avionics equipment in the third test airplane.
Dewar said that testing will be done in the U.S. because of the similarities with the Global 7000 and Learjet85 business aircraft that are made by Bombardier and tested in Wichita.
He said seven Bombardier CSeries planes are in various stages of assembly, including the first aircraft set for delivery, which will have wings joined to the fuselage in January.
Bombardier Aerospace president Guy Hachey said the new Learjet is "very close to flying."
"I'm going there this week to see the final preparations. I believe that we're very close but problems happen at the end, we're not going to do anything that is unsafe but we're very close," he told reporters after a lunchtime speech to the same conference.
Hachey said the smaller end of the business jet market could be one or two years away from recovery because of the high number of used planes that make it difficult to sell new aircraft.
"Until the inventory of pre-owned aircraft goes down more substantially it's going to take a little longer," he said.
Hachey also he doesn't anticipate losing Porter Airlines as a CSeries customer even though approval of a runway extension at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport by municipal authorities could take longer than anticipated.
He said Porter CEO Robert Deluce seems optimistic that the proposed changes allowing the aircraft to use the downtown airport will be approved.
Bombardier (TSX:BBD.B) said it has handed over noise data that are "a little bit better than predicted," said Dewar.
Porter said the data submitted to the city confirm that the CS100 will meet the stringent noise constraints that govern the airport.
"This has always been a key consideration of the proposal and we're pleased that the results support our initial position," spokesman Brad Cicero wrote in an email.
Meanwhile, Bombardier announced Monday that China Express Airlines has agreed to purchase up to 16 CRJ900 NextGen regional jets for US$733 million if all options are exercised.
The airline's firm order for three planes will valued at about US$134 million a list prices. It also has a conditional agreements for five more planes and options for eight aircraft.
China Express president Wu Longjiang said the airline expects to triple the number of its routes to 90 by 2016, covering 60 per cent of China's regional cities.
Industry Minister James Moore told the conference that the federal government has adopted recommendations from David Emerson's review of aerospace and space programs by creating a national aerospace research and collaboration network.
Built on the work done by Quebec's CRIAQ consortium, the national program will work with the provinces and the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada to support research in collaboration with universities and research labs.
"We have listened to your recommendations and . . . taking action based on that report," he said, although no specific funding was announced for the network.
The head of CRIAQ welcomed the commitment.
"It means that all provinces that are interested and all Canadian companies and universities and research organizations will be able to participate in collaborative research projects like we do at CRIAQ," said president and CEO Clement Fortin.