UPDATE 2-Bombardier's all-new CSeries makes inaugural flight
MIRABEL, Quebec, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Bombardier Inc's CSeries jetliner took flight for the first time on Monday, the culmination of a $3.4 billion program to develop the first all-new narrow-body plane of its size in decades.
The CSeries, which Bombardier says will be the world's quietest commercial aircraft, will carry up to 149 passengers. It is the Canadian company's big gamble to break into the hyper-competitive, larger aircraft segment currently ruled by Boeing Co and Airbus.
The white-and-blue CS100 test aircraft took off from outside the Bombardier plant in Mirabel, Quebec, at 9:54 a.m EDT (1354 GMT) in front of a crowd of employees, media and spectators.
While the thousands of spectators and engineers cheered, the plane rose from the tarmac with surprisingly little noise thanks to its new engines.
The highly anticipated first flight, which was delayed by some nine months, and the flight tests to come will be closely watched by airlines and other plane makers.
Airlines looking to purchase new planes want to see proof of Bombardier's claims of high fuel efficiency, low operating costs and low noise levels for the CSeries, a medium-haul jet made of light-weight composite materials.
Competitors will eye the performance of the plane's systems and components, most notably its PurePower PW1500G turbofan engine made by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of Connecticut-based United Technologies Corp.
"The CSeries has already caused an earthquake in the airliner industry. That's what caused Boeing and Airbus to redesign their airplanes," said Michael Boyd, chairman of the aviation consulting group Boyd Group International.
"The CSeries, on paper, was so superior in terms of economics that you have two global companies that had to jump from what Bombardier did."
Airbus and Boeing announced new-engine versions of their respective A320 and 737 class aircraft after Bombardier unveiled its plans for the CSeries.
The two big companies have won more than 3,500 orders for those planes, although only a small portion are for the smaller models that compete directly with the CSeries.
Brazil's Embraer SA, the world's No. 3 planemaker, leads in sales of smaller regional jets.
Montreal-based Bombardier, which also makes trains, is hoping to stake a claim on the single-aisle, 100- to 149-seat class that is midway between the regional planes and the larger commercial jetliners. It says it can corner half that market over the next 20 years.
The CS100 seats 110 for a typical configuration, while the larger CS300 seats 135. Another version of the CS300 can seat up to 160.
The first flight could help ignite more deals for the CSeries, which have stalled at 177 firm orders, far short of Bombardier's goal of 300 by the time the plane enters into service.
The CSeries' entry-into-service - the industry measure for when an airline puts a plane into commercial use - is currently set for an ambitious 12 months from now, a deadline many say will be hard to meet.
"There has not been a flight test program yet that's ever gone up there and they haven't found something that needed addressing," Chris Murray, an analyst with PI Financial, said recently. Like many others, Murray expects entry into service in 2015.
"First flight is likely going to be supportive of additional orders ... which is great. But it's really, let's get this thing in the air. You really want to see them start shipping units."