Mirabel is Bursting at the Seams, Part 2
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14:00 - September 8, 2017 - Quebec, Canada
C Series production ramp up is slower than expected and there are a number of reasons for this.
Pratt & Whitney are an easy target but I don't think they are the only ones to blame. My understanding is that P&W are actually able to supply Bombardier with all the engines they need for the current pace.
But will P&W be able to supply more engines when Bombardier will ramp up production? It depends on how fast the ramp up will be.
Right now C Series production is at approximately three aircraft per month and the ramp up is extremely slow because a number of suppliers have some production issues, while others have quality issues.
Until those problems are sorted out it will not be possible for Bombardier to increase production to higher levels. Besides, Bombardier also have problems of their own.
They have lost a great deal of expertise in the restructuring and this is impacting productivity. The restructuring also put a stop to several projects, one of them being the construction of a secondary assembly line.
The first C Series to enter service was delivered 15 months ago. And today there are 18 aircraft flying with Swiss (11) and airBaltic (7). That represents a delivery rate of 1.3 aircraft per month for that period.
Since March 2017 the delivery rate has been rock-steady at 2 aircraft per month.
Considering all the technology involved in the production of the C Series the pace should be much higher at this stage.
What we can expect for the coming months is a delivery rate of 3 aircraft per month for the rest of the year. That should bring total deliveries to 22 aircraft for the entire year. Which is way below expectations. I will discuss this in more details in an upcoming article.
In Part 1 of this survey I mentioned that there were too many aircraft in the pipeline and that there was not enough room to put them all inside. But some readers were quick to point out that MSN 55013 and 55014 were flying. Indeed they are, but that doesn't change anything and I will try to explain why so that our readers can have a better appreciation of the situation.
Bombardier Facility at Mirabel Airport, Quebec, Canada
In 2011 CRJ production was at an all-time low and the CRJ hangars were underused. At that time Mirabel was preparing itself for the coming of the C Series, which was still in the detailed design phase, which means they were just starting to cut metal for the first aircraft parts.
During that period there were three big projects at Bombardier Aerospace: the Learjet 85, the C Series and the Global 7000. This was way too ambitious for a company like Bombardier. And having bitten more than they could chew they had a major indigestion.
Bombardier fell victim of their ambitions and they had to restructure big time. The first thing they did was to dismantle Bombardier Aerospace, which had been created after the acquisition of Canadair in 1986, Shorts in 1989, Learjet in 1990, and de Havilland of Canada in 1992.
Pierre Beaudoin, who was the CEO at the time, created three new entities that would report directly to him: Aerostructures and Engineering Services, Business Aircraft and Commercial Aircraft.
Thousands of employees were let go and many projects were cancelled. One project that survived was the construction of the Final Assembly building. This is the Big White Building that we can see in the picture at the top.
That Final Assembly is a state-of-the-art building that has the capacity to produce up to 140 C Series per year, and perhaps even more.
But this Final Assembly building (FAL 1) was meant to feed a Secondary Assembly building across the tarmac, which was never built because of a lack of money.
Construction of that Secondary Assembly building was not cancelled though, but only postponed. Today they need this Secondary Assembly building more than ever because they have at lest 350 aircraft to deliver.
Right now they are using the CRJ hangars that were modified to fit the bigger and heavier C Series inside.
That CRJ hangar complex originally had 19 doors for the CRJ. But after the modifications there are now only 15 doors left, 6 of them for the CRJ and 9 for the C Series.
They removed four doors to make room for larger doors in order to accommodate the bigger C Series. Six doors have not been modified however and they are reserved for the CRJ.
The CRJ section is called Hangar X and the two C Series sections are called Hangar Y and Hangar Z respectively.
Hangar Y is where the first five FTVs were assembled. So the first aircraft that was built in the brand new Final Assembly building was actually the sixth complete C Series ever assembled, sporting the MSN 50006, the first production aircraft.
There are nine C Series bays in total, which are shared between Hangar Y and Hangar Z. These are the two sections I call FAL 2.
But it's actually a lot more than a Secondary Assembly building, for it also houses the Preflight hangars; and it is also used as a delivery centre for the C Series, and theoretically for the CRJ as well, but there is absolutely no room left for the CRJ at the moment
C Series Final Assembly (FAL 1)
When the aircraft come off the assembly line in Final Assembly (FAL 1), they are sent to FAL 2 for completion. And while they are on their way to FAL 2 they make a stop at the paint shop for about a week.
The responsibility of FAL 2 is to finish the aircraft. Most of it is cabin work, which can be tidiest work that is often carried out under customer supervision. FAL 2 is also where they install the engines and the APU on the aircraft.
When all the work has been completed the aircraft is handed over to Preflight next door where they will prepare it for flight testing. The main responsibility of Preflight is to certify the aircraft. And when this is done they call the customer in to carry out the acceptance checks before taking the aircraft to its home base.
Normally the secondary assembly line would have been located in a separate building, and Preflight would have had their own hangars, and the finished aircraft would be handed over to their owners in a dedicated delivery centre.
My understanding is that they originally intended to modify the CRJ hangars to make room for Preflight in Hangar Y, while using Hangar Z as a delivery centre for both the CRJ and C Series.
Used this way Hangar Y and Hangar Z would have been able to sustain much higher rates, possibly up to 120 a year, but I am not sure exactly what the maximum capacity would be.
One thing is certain though: As they are used right now, that is as FAL 2 + Preflight + Delivery Centre, they are totally inadequate for higher rates. For the production of the C Series is only starting and the facility is already saturated, literally bursting at the seams.
First of all they don't have a proper store to put all the cabin stuff, the engines, the APUs, etc. And the existing FAL 2 is located far away from the engine integration hall where the engines are prepared before they are sent to the aircraft. And the existing paint shop, which has to support both the CRJ and the C series, also has a limited capacity, and the CS500 will not fit inside.
All of this had been addressed in a very efficient way in the original plan.
However, this plan was never implemented because they did not have enough money for the construction of a proper Secondary Assembly building adjacent to the integration hall; and a store for aircraft parts; and a new paint shop dedicated to the C Series, including the CS500.
As for the Final Assembly building it had already been paid for by the Gouvernement du Québec as part of the initial subsidies that were allocated to Bombardier by various governments at the time of the C Series launch at Farnborough, in 2008.
In my next post I will continue to discuss this saga in more details.
End of Part 2
If you hold any useful information about C Series production feel free to contact me, confidentially, at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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