When Rob Dewar began his career in aviation in 1986, Bombardier was selling snowmobiles and building firefighting aircraft, among others. The company was not a player in commercial aviation. Only six years later it bought de Havilland Canada, which included the Dash-8 regional turboprop program.

Almost exactly 30 years later, C Series program chief Dewar and his Bombardier colleagues were able to hand over the first Bombardier CS100 to its launch operator Swiss International Air Lines at a ceremony in Montreal. The aircraft is no longer a regional jet like the CRJ Series that Bombardier has built since the 1990s. It is the first all-new narrowbody aircraft since the advent of the Airbus A320 in 1988.

The C Series has caused enormous stress for Bombardier. The aircraft has been delayed several times and has exceeded the original budget by far. The company was about to sell the C Series to Airbus and has since received financial support from Quebec, which now owns 49% of the C Series program, and from the Canadian federal government. Bombardier was forced to cut thousands of jobs for the project to survive. And in spite of recent high-profile orders by Delta Air Lines and Air Canada, it is still unclear whether the C Series will become the commercial success its manufacturer hopes for.

But if even Airbus’s chief salesman—and Bombardier chief skeptic—John Leahy describes it as a “nice little aircraft,” one thing is certain: Bombardier has built a very good aircraft. Given the five-abreast layout and the size of its wing, even growing the C Series family beyond the CS100 and CS300, the two first family members currently in service with Swiss and Air Baltic, is conceivable.

While development and testing is now behind Dewar and his team, the challenges are not behind them. Managing the production ramp-up is now one of two key tasks. The other is securing more orders. The job is not yet done, but bringing the C Series to market is already a tremendous achievement that warrants the laureate award for commercial aviation.

Bombardier was selected from a list of companies and individuals whose achievements qualified them as finalists. This includes Qantas CEO Alan Joyce for the remarkable turnaround of the airline within two years, Airbus for the entry into service of the A320neo, the FAA Fire Safety Branch at the William J. Hughes Technical Center for developing new testing standards for containers to safely hold lithium-ion batteries in flight and United Airlines and AltAir Fuels for the first commercial-scale use of biofuels.