Right now a friend of mine is flying from London City to New York JFK aboard British Airways' new all-premium Airbus A318 service. Said friend is genuinely excited about his trip, and yet he has probably flown darn near every aircraft in darn near every configuration.
With such unbridled enthusiasm for the all-premium concept still alive and well, it might not come as a surprise that Bombardier believes there is a small but profitable market for an all-business-class CSeries cabin.
The Canadian airframer is working with interiors specialist and CSeries supplier C&D Zodiac to explore low-density configurations for the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G geared-turbofan-powered narrowbody.
"Several airlines are talking about using the CSeries in this way," says Bombardier commercial aircraft president Gary Scott. "It's not a large quantity of airplanes. It's not a large market, but it is very lucrative."
In standard iteration, the five-abreast 100- to 125-seat CSeries CS100 and larger 120- to 145-seat CS300 will accommodate 47cm (18.5in) window and aisle seating, and a bigger, 48.25cm (19in) middle seat.
"We optimised around five-abreast, but we built an airplane that's basically half a seat larger than the current five-abreast airplanes," says Scott, referring to the McDonnell Douglas DC-9, MD-80 and Boeing 717. "We are able to put these bigger seats in and put in a bigger aisle to give added comfort."
Making the CSeries cabin a crucial half-seat narrower than six-abreast aircraft "was a conscious decision that allowed us to be 10,000lb [4,535.9kg] lighter than [similar-sized] Boeing/Airbus products and we wanted to reap that advantage", says Scott. At the same time, it allowed Bombardier to offer a cabin better suited to all-premium configurations than six-abreast Airbus or Boeing narrowbodies which have "wasted space", he adds.
Bombardier has not yet detailed the premium seating arrangements being considered.
BA launched its transatlantic Airbus A318 service between London City and JFK in October. The 32-seat A318 makes a fuel stop at Shannon, Ireland on the westbound leg because the short runway at London City cannot accommodate an A318 with full fuel. Bombardier's CS100 is expected to be certified for London City.
But BA, which also operates the premium transatlantic OpenSkies brand, is by no means the only carrier to target the all-business market. CSeries customer Lufthansa's so-called "Lufthansa Business Jet" service is flown by Swiss operator PrivatAir and currently serves a number of routes with narrowbody aircraft, including the Frankfurt-Pune, India city pair.
Pune, a centre for the information technology, biochemistry and automotive industries, is fuelled by "demand from corporations" and is the type of market Bombardier should bank on for an all-premium CSeries, says Shashank Nigam, chief executive of global airline marketing and branding consultancy Simpliflying.
He suggests, for example, that Canadian start-up Enerjet "would be a very good client for an all-business-class offering by Bombardier". Enerjet mainly operates charters for Calgary-based Suncor Energy and Sands, which in late 2008 awarded the carrier a multi-year contract to shuttle its workers to oil sand development sites in remote parts of northern Canada.
The Boeing 737-700 operator "is flying to a lot of destinations where Air Canada does not operate, and this is where all the oil sands are being found", says Nigam, adding: "Merging the private jet concept, which represents niche demand, with sustained demand makes the all-premium CSeries concept feasible."
Bombardier is also confident the CSeries will attract budget and start-up carriers. Many of the major airlines in the Middle East region, for instance, are looking to expand their regional network, says Scott. "That is bringing a lot of interest to Bombardier."
But the airframer is not seeing an overwhelming push for ultra-high-density CSeries configurations from potential customers. "If anything, we're seeing trends that airlines are starting to maybe compete a little bit again on passenger comfort, with customers talking about new configurations," says Ben Boehm, Bombardier vice-president commercial aircraft programmes.
The airframer's seemingly minor decision to widen the middle seat could make an important impact on how passengers perceive the CSeries cabin.
"Passenger uneasiness is not generated by the people in front of you, separated by a wall of seat-backs, or to the back of you," says air transport consultant Morten Müller. "Uneasiness is generated by the lateral closeness of the person who is actually going to touch you, so the conclusion of some analysts and experts is that it makes no sense to give pitch to people. What you need is lateral freedom of space."
We'll have more from Müller a bit later. He has a fascinating idea for how Airbus and Boeing can compete with the CSeries!!!
The current five-abreast aircraft were built in the 1960s, says Bombardier's Scott, "so we're building for the 2020 to 2060 time period". Bombardier is planning to have the CS100 enter service in 2013.