our years and two rounds of site searches led Montréal-based Bombardier Aerospace
to come to the conclusion that there's no place like home. Bombardier announced in mid-July that it would build the assembly plant for its new CSeries aircraft in Mirabel, a Montréal suburb, where the company previously opened an assembly facility near the Montréal-Mirabel International Airport in 2001. The airport, primarily devoted to cargo, is one of world's largest in terms of area.
Bombardier announced in 2004 that it was embarking on a global search for a facility to build the new CSeries family of aircraft for the 110- to 130-seat market. Mirabel was selected in 2005, but the company subsequently reopened its search. This time, the search included multiple locations in the U.S. The only one made public was Kansas City, which was considered the runner-up to Mirabel.
Ben Boehm is program director for Bombardier's CSeries aircraft.
"We looked at a fairly complex set of business criteria that included accessibility to an international airport, financial considerations and tax benefits," says Ben Boehm, Bombardier's program director for the CSeries jets. "One of the bigger considerations is access to a trained labor pool. When we talk trained labor pool, we are not talking about the short term – we are looking at a much longer term."
Boehm says the rising value of the Canadian dollar versus the U.S. dollar was among the reasons for reopening the search.
"In the second round, we were open with the other contenders that we had already once decided for the Montréal area. Beyond admitting that and wanting to be open about that, we wanted to do the search in a fair manner."
The Canadian government is contributing the equivalent of US$350 million and the Québec government $117 million to the project. Bombardier describes the funding as "repayable investments," which will cover about a third of R&D costs.
Bombardier plans to start building test facilities at Mirabel by the end of 2009, with construction of the production plant set for 2011.
“We looked at a fairly complex set of business criteria that included accessibility to
an international airport, financial considerations and tax benefits.”
The company projects that the $500-million, 1.3-million-sq.-ft. (120,770-sq.-m.) facility will employ 3,500 when it fully ramps up by 2017.
Bombardier's facility in Saint-Laurent, a Montréal borough, will also see some CSeries action. Bombardier will invest about $50 million to equip the facility to manufacture the aircraft's aft fuselage and cockpit.
The biggest construction bill will come at Bombardier's site in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where nearly $1 billion will be invested to develop a plant to build the aircraft's composite wings. The Belfast operation has specialized in composite technologies for nearly 40 years.
Boehm believes Québec will continue to be the center of Canada's aerospace sector due to its "center of excellence" of education. The province accounts for more than 60 percent of the country's aerospace production and boasts more than 39,000 employees in the industry.
"The biggest reason most aerospace firms locate in Québec is the training infrastructure," he says. "The future will always be bright here with the base of skilled workers.
Bombardier expects to put its CSeries aircraft into service by 2013.
That's the biggest driver of success, and our location in Québec is driven by it."
Bombardier considers the CSeries to be the "greenest" aircraft in its class due to its lower fuel consumption. Increased use of composites and aluminum lithium in the structure, and a next-generation Pratt Whitney engine, are among its innovations, company officials say.
Boehm says the CSeries offers flexibility and economy.
"The CSeries offers all the flexibility airlines would expect. It has a 2,950-nautical-mile (4,747-km.) range and performs well out of small airports like the London City airport. In order to survive, we need an airplane that is fuel efficient. The CSeries is 20 percent more fuel efficient than our closest competitors. It has an extremely good environmental footprint in terms of noise and emissions."
Size will matter when it comes to comfort on the new planes. Boehm says the 5-abreast aircraft will feature a middle seat a half-inch wider than standard seats.
Lufthansa is Bombardier's launch customer for the CSeries, signing a letter of interest for up to 60 planes. The price tag of each aircraft is $46.7 million. Boehm expects other customers to be announced in the coming months.
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