Much-anticipated first flight tests of Bombardier's C Series aircraft, expected Monday, are part of a lengthy approval process and won't immediately determine how the jets would perform with Porter Airlines' controversial expansion plan at the Toronto Islands airport.
Noise levels and the required runway length for takeoff and landing are particularly key in the fight over Porter's plan introduced in April to lengthen the existing runway by 168 metres at both ends into the water.
The industry has been anxiously waiting the initial test flights, which will give the first full indications of whether Bombardier's 110- to 125-seat CS100 jet aircraft will be able to perform to its promised specifications. Porter's deal with Bombardier Inc., also announced in April, to buy up to 30 CS100s hinges on meeting those specifications.
Earlier this month, Porter introduced a second proposal to extend the runway by 200 metres in both directions, which, according to Porter, would result in less noise by enabling the jet planes to use less power for takeoff.
Opponents of the planned expansion say that Porter's president and chief executive officer Robert Deluce has been calling the planes "whisper jets" and using other market terms without any real testing to back up the claims.
"So far what we've seen is hypothetical data and marketing tactics from Rob Deluce, such as 'whisper jets,'" said Anshul Kapoor, a waterfront resident and spokesman for the No Jets T.O. campaign. "Even Bombardier does not use that term as of yet, but we see it plastered everywhere.
"We finally get to see what this plane is," Mr. Kapoor added.
Porter is confident the testing will remain on schedule.
"We are satisfied with the progress to date and expect the test program to ramp up this year," said Porter spokesman Brad Cicero. "Bombardier will be providing updated test data on the CS100 to the city as part of its ongoing review of our proposal. We expect that this updated data will meet the city's established timelines."
Transport Canada ultimately certifies the planes in a lengthy five-phase process, from its design to any post-flight changes that may be necessary. Most of the certification process occurs in the current, flight-testing phase.
Much of the latest testing has been on the tarmac, including high-speeding taxiing and landing-gear tests requiring "optimal weather conditions," said Marianella de la Barrera, a spokeswoman for Bombardier. Once in the air, how much is tested is determined by test pilots and flight conditions.
"They have a very specific list, but we won't know what they actually tested until they come down," Ms. de la Barrera said. "We won't get that information and be debriefed until the flight crew returns. The number one thing that the first [flight] will do will be to validate the performance envelope of the C Series" – in other words, whether it performs the basics it was designed to do.
"We're pretty good at designing and having the aircraft perform to its performance envelope," she said. "We're quite comfortable in that we're putting a relatively mature aircraft into the air." She noted that 200 suppliers have been testing their components on the ground. "So the amount of de-risking that we've done on the first aircraft is quite high," she said. Mr. Kapoor said Friday that No Jets T.O. will be following the tests. "From our perspective, we congratulate Bombardier for the imminent flight. It's something that we want to see land at Pearson airport, and not the Island airport." Bombardier says the process to test and certify the aircraft will likely take months.