Aerospace giant Bombardier's efforts to secure a big-ticket order for its CSeries are continuing as it announced certification tests on the jet are 90% complete.
The manufacturer, which employs 5,500 people in Northern Ireland, has been under pressure to secure big sales for the ambitious single-aisle jet programme. Wings for the jet are made in Belfast under a £520m project that's the biggest-ever inward investment in Northern Ireland. The aircraft will enter service next year with European airline Swissair.
But with just 243 confirmed orders for the jets, Bombardier is under pressure to secure a deal at around the 100-unit mark with a major airline to guarantee success. It is in competition with Airbus and Boeing in the market, and talks with Airbus on investing in the CSeries came to nothing.
Yesterday, the company's Ross Mitchell said it remained committed to the CSeries. At the ERA regional airlines conference in Berlin, the vice president of business acquisition said: "Let's start with the fact that Bombardier is 100% committed to the CSeries, it is coming to the market."
He said Bombardier was discussing orders with European customers. At the weekend, the company said it was in discussions with North American Airlines. Guy Masters, an aviation author in Northern Ireland, said efforts to secure orders will have been intense. He said: "They have invested a lot of effort in this project - it's technically a very good product and there's nothing wrong with it, but it is going into a market that's very hard to crack.
"Where the problem is is with making sales to make it profitable. They will have been straining every sinew on this from the start. The success of it could not be any more important for Bom bardier in Belfast and for the aerospace industry here. The bigger the airline you have the more clout you will have - and if you crack the US market you have made it because it's such a big volume market."
Bombardier Commercial Aircraft president Fred Cromer said yesterday that it was a "thrill" for the company to be in the final stage of certification of the CSeries before it goes into operation with SWISS.
Craig West, the editor of Airliner World, said certification involved putting the craft through flights in and out of 35 airports in the US, replicating typical flying conditions and ordinary wear and tear.