Where Will The Bombardier CSeries Authorised Service Facilities Be Located?

Chris Kjelgaard examines where Bombardier may look to locate its Authorized Service Facilities (ASF) following its announcement that SAMCO Aircraft Maintenance will become the first company outside of its own facilities to be awarded ASF status.

The award by Inspectie Leefomgeving en Transport, the Dutch civil aviation authority, of Part 145 base maintenance approval for the Bombardier CSeries family to Maastrict-Aachen Airport-based SAMCO Aircraft Maintenance makes SAMCO the first CSeries Part 145 Aircraft Maintenance Organisation in the world, outside Bombardier's own manufacturing facilities.

Bombardier Commercial Aircraft first selected SAMCO as a CSeries Authorised Service Facility (ASF) in June 2015 and the manufacturer says the Dutch company has worked diligently towards obtaining CSeries Part 145 approval ever since then.

Having received CSeries Part 145 base maintenance approval, SAMCO can now provide line and base maintenance and Continuing Airworthiness Management Organisation (CAMO) services to operators of Bombardier's CSeries aircraft, according to Constant van Schaik, SAMCO’s chief executive officer.

“In the future – when the aircraft are due for heavy checks – we will be ready to assist with such services as well,” van Schaik said in a statement yesterday.

According to Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, SAMCO will provide maintenance services on CSeries jets based in Europe and surrounding regions.

So it appears likely that SAMCO will perform maintenance and repairs on the CS100s and CS300s of European CSeries customers such as Latvia’s airBaltic, Turkish carrier AtlasGlobal, Sweden’s Braathens Regional Aviation, the UK’s Odyssey Airlines, Switzerland-based Privatair and Lufthansa Group subsidiary Swiss International Air Lines.

However, the C Series family has a growing number of firm and potential customers in several other parts of the world. Once they receive their aircraft, these customers will eventually need to have Part 145 base maintenance facilities available to them in convenient locations.

But where might such ASFs be located? Common sense suggests that Air Canada and most other North American customers for the CSeries may well choose to have their aircraft maintained at one of Bombardier’s own Commercial Aircraft Service Centres in North America.

At present, Bombardier has three such centres for its Q-series regional turboprop family and its CRJ regional-jet family. All are in the USA: Bombardier’s West Virginia Service Center is located in Bridgeport, West Virginia and the company also operates the Tucson Service Center in Arizona and the Macon Air Center in Georgia.

However, the Georgia centre may present an interesting dilemma for Bombardier.

Delta Air Lines, now the largest customer for the CSeries family with 75 CS100s on firm order and 50 more optioned (Delta retaining the right to convert many of its CS100 delivery positions to specify CS300s instead should it wish), is also based in Georgia. So it would seem natural for Delta to have its fleet maintained at the Macon Air Center.

But Delta is known throughout the industry for the high standards and technical excellence of its in-house MRO and technology wing, Delta TechOps. Should Delta eventually operate 125 (or perhaps even more) C Series jets, it seems inconceivable that Delta would not want its TechOps unit to be intimately involved in maintaining those aircraft.

Perhaps, then, Delta TechOps might one day become a recognised C Series Part 145 ASF in its own right.

Elsewhere, five regions of the world are particularly important strategically in terms of concentrations of firm and potential (via yet-to-be-finalised commitments) C Series customers. These are Asia, including China; Africa; Australia; the Middle East; and Russia.

Taking Africa first, Bombardier has received commitments for five C Series aircraft of unspecified model from an unnamed African carrier, which has been reported to be an existing Bombardier customer.

If this is true, the customer in question is very likely to be one of three African carriers.

Two of them are Addis Ababa-based Ethiopian Airlines and its strategic partner ASKY Airlines, which is based in Togo and obtains its aircraft from Ethiopian. Between them, Ethiopian and ASKY operate 17 Bombardier Q400 turboprops and Ethiopian has two more on order.

The third carrier is Johannesburg-based South African Express, which operates 10 Q400s, 10 CRJ200s and four CRJ700s.

Interestingly, Ethiopian Airlines and South African Express both are already Bombardier ASFs for the Q400, while South African Express is also licensed as an ASF for the CRJ family.

If either Ethiopian or South African Express is the unnamed African carrier which has secured commitments for five CSeries jets, then it is more than likely the airline involved will eventually become an ASF for the C Series as well. Both, but particularly Ethiopian, are known for their strong technical and MRO expertise.

Asia is a very important market for the CSeries family. Apart from the new Malaysian government-owned carrier Flymojo, which has secured commitments for 20 CS100s, Korean Air is a firm customer for 10 CS300s.

In China, Zhejiang Loong Airlines has given Bombardier commitments for 20 CS100s, while the China Development Bank-owned leasing company CDB Leasing has done similarly for five CS100s and 10 CS300s.

Bombardier has an existing ASF for CRJ-family aircraft in China: STAECO, an MRO joint venture among four aviation companies (two of them, HAECO and TAECO, are MRO specialists), which is located in Jiang in Shandong province.

Asian customers outside China might not be particularly interested in having their CSeries aircraft maintained there – for instance, Korean Air has its own very strong MRO wings in Korean Air Tech Center and Korean Air Aerospace – but China appears to be the next major frontier for Bombardier’s CSeries sales efforts.

Chinese airlines having already ordered thousands of Airbus and Boeing jets, the distinct paucity of CSeries orders from Chinese carriers to date suggest it is only a matter of time before Bombardier manages a sales breakthrough (perhaps through substantial price discounting) and major Chinese carriers start buying and operating the world’s most modern single-aisle airliner. Once they do, a CSeries ASF located in China – very possibly STAECO – will be needed.

Australia is an interesting market for Bombardier. Dozens of Dash 8s, Q400s and CRJs are already operating there. To date, however, Bombardier only has one Australian customer for the CSeries – but it is a big one. Leasing company Macquarie AirFinance has placed a firm order for 40 CS300s and has optioned 10 more.

Should some or all of these aircraft find their way on operating or finance leases to Australian operators, Bombardier will probably need a CSeries ASF located in Australia. It does already have a Q400 ASF in Australia, Hawker Pacific at Bankstown Airport in New South Wales, so that company potentially might serve as Bombardier’s CSeries ASF in Australia if needed.

To date, five firm and potential CSeries customers are based in the Middle East region. Gulf Air, Iraqi Airways, Al Qahtani Aviation Company (for start-up operator SaudiGulf) and Falcon Aviation Services have placed firm orders for a total of 33 C Series jets so far, and Air Arabia Jordan has given Bombardier a commitment for two CS100s.

However, Bombardier does not yet have any ASF in the Middle East for any of its commercial aircraft. One may be needed for the C Series family if orders from Middle East-based carriers continue to grow.

So perhaps Qatar Airways missed an opportunity in not ordering CSeries aircraft, when at one time it appeared likely to do so. That technically experienced airline would probably have made a good fit as a Middle Eastern ASF for C Series MRO.

Last, but by no means least, Russia remains a strategic market for the CSeries despite that vast nation’s present economic woes. For years Bombardier has publicly recognised the importance of Russia for its new commercial aircraft family and lessor Ilyushin Finance Company has given weight to the recognition by placing firm orders for 32 CS300s and securing a conditional order for seven more.

If delivered, many if not all of these aircraft will probably be operated by Russian carriers. So it is fortunate for Bombardier that it already has an ASF in Russia in the form of Tulpar Technic Ltd, an MRO company which is based at Kazan International Airport in the Russian Republic of Tatarstan and is an ASF for the CRJ family.

Many CRJs (most of them acquired used) now operate in Russia. Should new CSeries jets begin joining them on Russian domestic and international routes, a C Series ASF located by the River Volga will be welcome news for Bombardier and for the huge nation’s airlines.

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