Forget the Farnborough air show, it is not going to happen for the launch of Bombardier Aerospace’s new C Series aircraft despite all the speculation, why do I think that? Because I have just spent a week with the Montreal aerospace industry and government and none of them have a clue what is going to happen
caption: C Series launch announcement in China? / credit: Bombardier Aerospace
Instead I am going to indulge my tendenacies as a journalist to grasp the conspiracy theory in this case and blame Bombardier’s need to generate market confidence, after its first aborted launch, by what I suspect is its own leaking of information to publicly name possible launch customers and the giving of cryptic responses to journalists questions
In a way it is so obvious that a company would launch at Farnborough but do they need too and are there other reasons why they would make the announcement on another occasion?
What we do know is that the Bombardier board gave approval for offers to be made in February, we know Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbofan and the Chinese Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) are the only named suppliers and that there is a need for 50 to 100 firm orders before any launch decision is made
Now for what we don’t know. Could they deliver that many firm orders between February and July, who are the actual launch customers and how many are there, where will its final assembly take place (they had said it would be Mirabel, Quebec but then backtracked on that decision), how does the decision to create a new division for “Commercial Aircraft” within Bombardier affect the timetable and what role will P&W and the Chinese play in the announcement or for that matter the Quebec government?
Well no one in Quebec can tell you, that is my conclusion after spending a week there. So why was I so harsh with my first comment on what the aerospace industry and local government bodies know or don’t know regarding C Series’ launch?
Because it became apparent that what I was seeing was not a lot of people in the know with me at the centre of multiple well informed sources all corroborating each other, rather I had different people who had read the same media reports reflecting back at me what was already in the public domain. Even the local government bodies, who have recently submitted their support package proposal for a Mirabel based final assembly factory to Bombardier, are out of the loop
It is an odd feeling when you meet people in senior positions in the Quebec government involved in industrial policy, who talk to the aerospace industry on a very regular basis, and you realise that they are asking you if Bombardier will launch at Farnborough!
It is not that I didn’t give them the option to tell me “off the record.” It would have been so simple for them to tell me and I could have written that “Quebec aerospace sources confirm” but no, no joy.
So what is my conspiracy theory that answers all these questions and begins with the confidence building leaking of information? Well I can’t get away from how political aerospace is, whether it is WTO subsidy busting decisions or regions fighting for foreign direct investment or government programmes ready to place billions of US dollars with one company or another
So I think everyone has overlooked the involvement of the Chinese. Let’s not forget that AVIC is providing the fuselage for the C Series. This is not some APU component or subassembly, this is a serious chunk for an aircraft whose manufacturer claims challenges Boeing and Airbus’ A320 and Boeing 737 replacements
And then there is the other really political aspect, the final assembly location decision, one more factor that is linked to the first aborted launch attempt and I would argue its resolution is required to build that confidence in the programme. Talking to Quebec’s government officials I know that they have just submitted their proposal and this is not the sort of decision that gets made within a month
And what about those firm orders? Is 51 firm orders a good public relations move when you have declared you need 50 to 100. Come one, let’s face it they need 75 bare minimum and above to show that this is an aircraft with strong demand – and so I am going to stick my neck out and say that they need longer than six months to get those nailed down with documents ready to be signed at the launch by the parties involved and all the related press releases and promotional material approved
Promotional material approved, you may ask? Yes, people forget that for any decision, any major corporate action a whole series of small supporting activities have to be carried out and my inquisition of Bombardier, local government and its suppliers while in Quebec just leads me to believe that with just one month to go before Farnborough there is not enough in place for this much anticipated event
However there is one factor in this that could upset the apple cart, the creation of the new Bombardier “Commercial Aircraft” division; surely a supporting action and timely considering a Farnborough announcement?
Why do it now? It is a question that flummuxed Bombardier’s senior spokesman but I think that its announcement is simply another aspect of this confidence building work to enable them to get orders
So with all that what is the picture I see emerging from the jigsaw puzzle of leaks, confirmed facts, denials and ignorance?
Well, you heard it here first, C Series will launch with Chinese and Quebec government representatives and China Southern as the lead launch customer at the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition that will be held from 4-9 November in Zuhia, Guangdong
But then again, I could be wrong