Understanding what Boeing and Airbus are up to is child’s play compared with making sense of the regional aircraft world these days. Not so long ago it was a question of Bombardier battling Embraer on jets and ATR on props. And everyone trying to find a respectable way out of the props. Now everyone’s talking to everyone, props are selling like hotcakes, the French and Italians both want to hang onto ATR, and the Russians are coming! (Maybe the Chinese and Japanese too.) Only this afternoon Bombardier placed another 10 new Q400s. What will become of everyone?The most complex situation is ATR. For a good few years I don’t think it served as much more than a training ground for Airbus and EADS. It was (and is) half-owned by Alenia of Italy and can’t have made much sense for either of them. But if it was wholly-owned by either then the numbers look better – especially for Alenia which wanted to grow its portfolio without annoying its huge customer Boeing (which was why it said ‘thanks but no thanks’ to an A380 stake.)
Fast forward a couple of years and now props are flying out the factory, relatively speaking anyway. In fact Flight has a nice exclusive this week revealing that studies are much more advanced than anyone knew on the son of ATR.
To Alenia’s irritation, EADS is now not interested in selling out of ATR. Russia has a lot to do with that I think, and it’s not simply a question of the Superjet opportunity. True enough, Alenia has got a serious stake in that project, but the fact is that it has been French interests – primarily Snecma, but also Thales – that have been pushing the project. It put a new spring into the step of some jaded old Snecma-derived CFM sales-folks who could find a home for a few-score CFM56s before breakfast anyday of the week without breaking sweat.
What you’re really seeing is the outermost tentacles of the great European Union politico-industrial complex trying to suck the new Russia into its maw. At a higher level Airbus does the work, and people like former president Jacques Chirac used to turn up to sign the deals. But in the smallprint, or at least the appendices, there is stuff about supporting Russian aerospace. That means an engineering centre in Moscow, just like Boeing, but better still the chance to sell a Russian aircraft that doesn’t compete with Airbus, and does compete with Bombardier and Embraer which at least distantly do threaten Airbus.
Europe does not like the US getting chummy with Russia, the Eastern European states, or even the wild men of the Caucasus for that matter. And of course they love it when it all goes wrong.
You can expect more of this sort of thing, with some unexpected beneficiaries.