By Andrea Shalal
DUBAI (Reuters) - Canadian planemaker Bombardier said on Sunday it is on track to certify its new CS100 regional jet, which is making its Middle Eastern debut at the Dubai Airshow this week, before its planned entry into service next year.
Fred Cromer, president of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, told reporters the company's CSeries program was progressing well, and was seeing demand from an array of customers, including some in the Gulf region.
He said the company had nearly completed flight testing of the CS100, whose FTK-5 test model flew to Dubai last week, and had already begun function and reliability testing aimed at simulating typical airline routes and operations.
Completion of the flight test program and the plane's certification are essential for Bombardier to drum up additional orders for the new jet.
Cromer told Reuters on Sunday that the company still expected to sell 300 jets before the plane enters into service in the first half of 2016. It currently has 243 firm orders for the new jet, and an overall total of 603 orders, options and letters of intent.
He acknowledged Bombardier still had hard work ahead as a new entrant, and said it continued to press for a "marquis" customer or larger airline to help boost orders and confidence in the long-delayed program, which is billions of dollars over budget.
Quebec's provincial government announced a $1 billion investment on Oct. 29 to keep the CSeries program afloat.
The narrow-body CSeries line of jets are set to compete against Boeing Co's (BA.N) 737 planes and Airbus Group's (AIR.PA) A319 and A320 jets.
Cromer, the former president of International Lease Finance Corp who joined Bombardier in April, said the infusion of cash had eased the company's liquidity crunch and helped reassure the market that the CSeries would survive.
"If there was any question about whether or not the airplane would make it to the market, I think we’ve largely put those issues aside," he said. He said the total cost to develop the CSeries would be about $5.4 billion, with about $900 million still needed to complete the certification process.
Cromer declined to name any potential Gulf customers for the new aircraft, but said its performance at high altitudes and in hot temperatures, as well as its wide seats and low operating cost, made it attractive to customers in the region.
He said the jet's lower fuel burn rate remained a strong selling point despite falling oil prices.
Executives added that Latvia-based Air Baltic would be the launch operator of its CS300 aircraft when it takes delivery in the second half of 2016. The Latvian flag carrier has 13 CS300 aircraft on firm order and options for seven more.
The CS300 is expected to complete certification about six months after the CS100.
(Additional reporting by Katie Paul and Tim Hepher; Editing by William Maclean, Larry King)