Bombardier Is Running Out of Space and Out of Time
After running out of money Bombardier will soon run out of space. And the two are related.
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What follows is a little known story.
Only a few months before the C Series maiden flight contractors were hard at work erecting the new building that we know today as the C Series Final Assembly Building. In fact they were supposed to construct two final assembly buildings simultaneously and in line with each other.
But not long before signing the contract for Phase 1 of this huge construction project Bombardier was already running out of cash. Which led the famous Ski-Doo company to dismantle Bombardier Aerospace. So what was once a single entity became on January 1, 2014 Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, Bombardier Business Aircraft and Bombardier Aerostructures and Engineering Services. Thousands of layoffs accompanied this major restructuring.
We only found out about a year later how serious the situation was. But when a company is on the verge of bankruptcy important decisions have to be made, and that means slashing all unnecessary spending. And whatever is judged to be absolutely necessary has to be postponed for as long as possible.
That's what happened with the Secondary Assembly Building.
Here comes the interesting part.
Before construction of the Final Assembly Building was started, modifications of the existing CRJ building were already underway. The main purpose of these modifications was to make room for the larger and heavier C Series. What was once a 19 bay building became a 15 bay building. Hangar X, which housed the CRJ FAL 2, remained intact with six bays. But Hangar Y and Hangar Z were reduced to nine bays instead of the previous thirteen. That's because the C Series is much larger than the CRJ.
The original idea was that after these modifications would have been carried out the goal was to use the modified hangars as a preflight centre and delivery centre, and these two would share the nine bays. At low production rates nine bays was actually more than what was needed for the short term. And this offered Bombardier a wonderful opportunity to save a lot of money. So a decision was made to cancel construction of the Secondary Assembly Building and temporarily transfer the operations to the modified CRJ hangars. And as was planned, the Hangar Y modifications were finished just in time to start assembling the first FTV aircraft; because the Final Assembly Building would not have been completed by the time all the aircraft parts had arrived.
Considering the financial situation in which Bombardier found itself in at the time it was a wise decision. But it had to be an interim measure because over the long term the C Series would need more space.
It's all tied to the production rate. Around 2020 Bombardier expects to be producing approximately 120 aircraft per year. But for such of rate the existing facilities are inadequate. What is required is the Secondary Assembly Building that was supposed to be constructed just in front of the Final Assembly Building. From this point on I will call the Final Assembly Building the FAL 1 and the Secondary Assembly Building the FAL 2, where FAL stands for Final Assembly Line.
FAL 1 is where the main parts of the aircraft, like the wings and the fuselage sections, are put together so that at the end of the assembly line it starts to look like an aircraft, and it is indeed structurally complete by then. That is what final assembly means. But when the aircraft comes out of FAL 1 a lot of equipment is still missing, starting with the engines. From there the aircraft is sent to the paint shop before going to FAL 2 where it will receive its interior equipment, like galleys, lavatories, overheard bins and seats. At the same time the engines and APU will be installed, and various systems will be tested. But I am getting ahead of myself here.
CSeries FAL 1 Building built in 2013Picture: CTV NewsThere are two parallel lines of three assembly stations each at FAL 1. And they are interchangeable. What this means is that the CS100, CS300 and CS500 can all be assembled there on either line, depending of the requirements at any given time. But when the aircraft was to come out of FAL 1 it was supposed to be sent to FAL 2 just in front of it. However, since it has not been constructed yet the aircraft are presently sent to the improvised FAL 2 in Hangar Y and Hangar Z, which I was talking about earlier. So from this point on I will call the modified CRJ hangars the temporary FAL 2.
When constructed the future FAL 2 will have a single line of four assembly stations nose-to-tail. But it is meant to be a movable line, like the one Bombardier has already put in use at the Saint-Laurent facility where the cockpit is manufactured. The fourth station is the last one before the aircraft goes out and that is where the engines will be installed. The beauty is that this station is in line with the integration hall that was built for Pratt and Whitney.
This unique facility is where the engines are finalized before they are sent to the assembly line already attached to their pylon, for they are meant to be installed together, as one complete assembly, under the wing of the aircraft.
When FAL 2 will have been constructed this operation will take place between two adjacent buildings, and therefore the engines will only have to be pushed, literally, from the integration hall to the fourth station next door.
Talk about efficiency!
But all this is still only a dream. In the meantime they have to content themselves with the far away temporary FAL 2.
Right now when the aircraft comes out of FAL 1 it has to travel about 1 or 2 km, depending on which side of the hangar it goes, instead of only two hundred feet; and instead of pushing the engine next door it has to be towed to the temporary FAL 2. Talk about inefficiency!
It is easy to imagine the congestion at the temporary FAL 2 when the production rate will reach a critical level. Because we have to keep in mind that Hangar Y and Hangar Z are also used as a preflight centre and delivery centre, in addition to the FAL 2 operations. Which means they all share the nine available bays: Excuse me sir, could you please take your bloody aircraft out so that I can bring mine in! We are not there yet but it is all coming fast.
So Bombardier better find the money to start construction of the FAL 2 building in order to be ready when the higher rates come. And if they want to leave sufficient time for the actual construction of the building they will have to make a decision soon.
Note: To help our readers visualizing what we are discussing here there is an illustration* at the top that shows the entire project as it was meant to be in 2013. The buildings in dark blue belong to Phase 1 of the project, and for Phase 2 they are highlighted in light blue. The second phase is a doubling of the first one if ever Bombardier feels the need to increase production beyond the targeted 120 a year rate, to bring its total capacity to 240. But these figures have since been revised and the total capacity of Phase 1 have now been raised to 140-150 a year; which means that Phase 2 would bring the total capacity to 280-300 a year. There is also provision for additional storage space and two extensions of the existing paint shop. In the top left corner of the illustration the four interconnected buildings are the existing flight test centre. *The illustration comes from the now defunct local newspaper Le Mirabel, dated July 12, 2013. The people who have access to the Mirabel plant can visualize all this in three dimensions, for there is a large plexiglass mock-up of this project passed the entrance.
Current Bombardier CSeries/CRJ facility at Mirabel airport - view from the north
Current Bombardier Mirabel facility - view from the south
My name is Normand Hamel. After a 35 year career in aviation I retired in 2009 to better concentrate on my favourite activities: reading and writing. If you wonder what Run-up Pad means it refers to this special section of a run-up area on an airport that can be heated up in cold temperatures to prevent an aircraft from slipping forward when power is applied to test the engines. It also refers symbolically to the yellow pad I am using to write these articles for which I intend to bring our readers to contribution to test my ideas, like one would test an engine to make sure it works properly.
note: You can see all Normand's article from the top of the article, simply select "Normand's Run-Up Pad"
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