Why the CSeries faces a crunch year

Few would dispute that the Bombardier CSeries has all the potential to re-benchmark short-haul flying. But, arguably, a decade ago so did the Fairchild Dornier 728. And we all know what happened to that

That, of course, is not the only similarity between these two short-haul twinjets. Both were launched by Lufthansa.

FD728Rollout.JPGFifteen years ago, the much-trumpeted launch and ensuing sales success of the 728 (pictured above at its roll-out shortly before the programme was cancelled and Lufthansa had to devise a “plan b”) shook the regional incumbents Bomabardier and Embraer into action. Bombardier decided to leverage its strong market presence with the 50-seat CRJ by stretching and rewinging the jet. Embraer couldn’t follow its Canadian rival as its three-abreast cabin ERJ family was not suitable for stretch. Instead, it decided to take the bold step of launching its four-abreast E-Jet family with the backing of flamboyant Crossair CEO Moritz Suter. A decade on, Embraer has sold over 1,000 E-Jets.

Faced with another threat on its home turf, this time from its old rival, there was much speculation that Embraer might again have to dig deep into its pockets to create a viable rival to the CSeries.

But after an extensive evaluation – amid much speculation about a potential “clean-sheet” five-abreast design with advanced turbofans to counter Montreal’s move – Embraer has decided not to spend silly money and this time will limit any response to a less costly re-engined (and possibly stretched) ERJ development.

This decision was no doubt partly inspired by the market’s staggering response last year to the re-engined narrowbodies from Airbus and Boeing. The size of the success was indeed a surprise to both of them, and Bombardier must also have been a little shocked.

There’s no doubt that Airbus has made good the declaration by Airbus VP Tom Williams a couple of years ago that Toulouse was on a mission to “destroy” the CSeries business case with the Neo and stop Bombardier “building a beachhead” at in the foothills of the A320′s market. When I asked Tom Enders last week in Hamburg whether Airbus was still worried by the threat of the CSeries, he replied “not so much, now”.

And yesterday at the opening of Qatar Airways’ snazzy new lounge at Heathrow’s T4, CEO Akbar Al Baker said he did not plan to announce any airliner orders at Farnborough. So that means there is still no sign of the airline’s long negotiated CSeries order. That other long-fizzling Middle East deal, from Gulf Air, was strangely absent at the recent air show in the airline’s hometown of Bahrain.

Anyway, this year is a crunch one for Bombardier and the CSeries programme. It must complete assembly and roll out the prototype if it’s to flight-test and certificate the PW1000G-powred twinjet as scheduled by the end of 2013. But when I last enquired with Bombardier, there was still no guidance offered for precise date of either the unveiling or the maiden flight.

2011 orders/firm backlog

CSeries*   48/138

E-Jet        104/249

A320neo   1,226/1,256

737 Max    150/250

*From 1 Feb 2011 to 19 Jan 2012/At 19 Jan 2012

Figures exclude MoUs, commitments etc


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