Within a matter of months, airBaltic will introduce the brand-new Bombardier CS300 aircraft into service. In the weeks leading up to this momentous event, the airline’s engineers are actively working behind the scenes to ensure the smooth introduction of these state-of-theart airplanes. Baltic Outlook caught up with Oskars Zaļkalns, airBaltic’s chief engineer, to see how the transition is proceeding.

airBaltic will be the first airline in the world to make commercial flights with CS300 aircraft. What’s it like to be among the first engineers and ground crew members to service these brand-new airplanes? 

In one sense, nothing is changing that radically. All airplanes have wings, noses, tails and engines. But in another sense, we are dealing with the most modern commercial aircraft available. The CS300 is equipped with all kinds of new technologies that we have not worked with before. We have gone through extensive training and have various web-based manufacturers’ manuals at our disposal to help us apply our new knowledge in practice. 

How is Bombardier giving you the information that you need to conduct your duties?

Regarding airBaltic’s technical department, Bombardier is sending two field service employees to Riga. They are being joined by two Pratt & Whitney engine specialists and by four technicians who serviced the new CS300 planes while they were still being tested. Representatives of companies responsible for the supply of spare parts are also arriving to help us maintain the interiors, chassis, braking, avionics and other plane systems. In addition, Bombardier is sending other competent and experienced advisors, who will be in Riga from the first day that we begin commercial flights with the new aircraft. Some of them will stay here for only a couple of weeks, others will stay for a few months, and a few will even remain in Riga for a number of years. That will make the servicing and maintenance of our new aircraft much easier, because the right people will always be on hand to give us advice whenever we need it. 

How did the training of airBaltic’s employees take place?

We gave various courses to our specialists. One training programme was for mechanics, the second was for avionics and the third was a general familiarisation training course. Many airlines provide general training to their employees, but we chose to segment our training into different fields. We prefer to have more people with detailed knowledge about specific aspects of the aircraft, rather than fewer people with an overall knowledge of how things work. That’s because nobody can know absolutely everything that there is to know about the operations of an airplane. Some of the courses were given here in Riga, while others were presented abroad. For example, two courses about the workings of the engines were given in the USA, while practical training for aircraft maintenance was conducted in Canada. On top of that, each supplier also provides courses about specific spare parts. In addition, we have learned a lot on our own during the working process and while cooperating with Bombardier. Our technicians and engineers have received both theoretical and practical training, including simulated service requests to the manufacturer. This is giving them the hands-on knowledge that they will need once the new airplanes are put into operation. 

One of the CS300’s greatest assets is its Pratt & Whitney PurePower PW1500G engine, which is quieter, more fuel-efficient and more environmentally friendly than similar airplane engines. Can you tell us more about it?

The Pratt and Whitney engine is the most advanced to date in the field of civil aviation. The secret to its success lies in its gearbox transmission. The engine doesn’t drive the fan shaft straight from the turbine, but through the gearbox, which reduces the fan rotation speed. The fan blades can thus be larger, increasing the engine’s bypass ratio and permitting more air to flow through them. The lower fan rotation speed makes the engines quieter and more fuel-efficient. The manufacture of fan blades is a very complicated process, involving the use of different metal alloys and composite materials to increase their durability. If one compares engine types, then turbo propellers are more fuel-efficient than jets. In the CS300’s new engines, it’s as if the propellers have been placed into contours. That results in a golden mean between loud, vibrating turbo propellers and fuel-guzzling jet engines. A flight should be enjoyed, and one shouldn’t have to put on earplugs because the engines are too loud!

The CS300 can fly further than the Boeing 737 Classic and uses 18% less fuel. What other features does it have?

The CS300 flies at an altitude of around 41,000 feet, while the maximum altitude for Boeing 737s is 37,000 feet. The CS300 thus encounters less air resistance, which leads to greater fuel economy. The plane also has a real-time monitoring system to make sure that it is operating properly. This means that while the plane is up in the air, technicians on the ground can spot any problems that might arise in the engines, landing gear and other equipment. A Boeing aircraft has hydraulic brakes, while the brakes on the CS300 are operated by electric motor actuators. A Boeing is operated through a unified mechanical system, where pilots apply manual pressure on the yoke (steering wheel) and press with their feet on the rudder pedals. In the CS300, the pilots use a sidestick, which is similar to a computer joystick. The CS300 systems are not as heavy as in a Boeing 737 (in part due to the fact that the wings are made of composite materials) and are easier to maintain. The CS300 is also safer due to its fuel tank inerting system. When fuel is consumed during a flight, the amount of fuel in the tank gradually decreases. The used fuel is replaced by air, whose volume in the tank increases accordingly. Air contains oxygen, which is flammable and can present a safety risk. However, under Bombardier’s new system, nitrogen is added to the fuel tank, ensuring that the proportion of oxygen in the tank does not surpass 12 percent. Furthermore, the CS300 is equipped with an advanced navigation system. The result of all of these features is a plane that uses less fuel, emits fewer pollutants, makes less noise, flies faster (thus reducing flight times) and lands more precisely

And finally, where would you like to fly on your first trip in a CS300 plane?

Straight to the Canary Islands! [Laughs.] That would not be possible with the Boeing 737 Classic aircraft that we are currently using. CSeries planes have a greater flight range, so we will soon be able fly to even more distant destinations from Riga. BO