Bombardier halts CSeries jet tests as engine fails on ground
Both the Pratt & Whitney engine and the jet itself were damaged, adding to setbacks for the plane billed as a challenger to the smallest Boeing and Airbus aircraft.
Bombardier halted flight testing on its new CSeries after an engine failed during ground maintenance tests, adding to the setbacks for a model plagued by delays and rising development costs.
One of the two jet engines on Flight Test Vehicle 1 was damaged late Thursday at the company’s facility in Mirabel, Quebec, said Marc Duchesne, a spokesman. The jet also suffered damage, he said.
Any time lost in flight trials would extend the struggles for a plane that Bombardier envisions producing as much as $8 billion in annual revenue later this decade.
Orders for the plane haven’t met Bombardier’s target, and few major airlines have embraced a jet that the company bills as a challenger to Boeing and Airbus aircraft.
The CSeries program will cost $4.4 billion, according to Bombardier’s latest estimate, $1 billion more than when the company decided to proceed with the plane in 2008.
“We hope the investigation will proceed quickly so that we can resume flight tests as soon as possible,” Duchesne said.
Bombardier is being assisted by the engine maker, United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney unit. More than 4,000 hours of engine testing have been conducted since trials began in September 2010, according to Bombardier’s website.
The company has said the CSeries, which features the new geared turbofan (GTF) engine from Pratt & Whitney, will cost about 15 percent less to operate and produce less noise.
“This news is unlikely to help sentiment in the CSeries, and could raise questions about the Geared Turbofan and the other platforms that it has been selected to power,” Robert Stallard, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets in New York, wrote Friday in a note to clients.
“The whole point of ‘testing’ an aircraft is to find out if everything works perfectly — and then fix it before it enters service,” Stallard wrote. “We’ve seen other testing issues in the past, but ultimately the issues have been addressed and the aircraft has entered operation. We expect this to be the case with the GTF.”
While rare, damaging engine failures during flight operations and ground trials do occur. In August 2010, a Rolls-Royce Holdings Trent 1000 engine for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner suffered a blowout on a test bed in the U.K. Three months later, a Trent 900 model exploded on an Airbus A380 flown by Qantas Airways.
In 2012, a Dreamliner doing high-speed taxi tests spewed debris from its General Electric engine, igniting a grass fire along a runway at the Charleston, S.C., airport near Boeing’s new factory.
Bombardier is planning 2,400 hours of test flights for the CSeries. As of May 1, the company had logged about 280 hours of flight tests, or about 12 percent of the planned total.
The CSeries is targeted for a commercial debut in the second half of 2015, after Bombardier’s Jan. 16 announcement that more time was needed to complete flight tests. The plane is designed to seat 108 to 160 people.