ANALYSIS: Bombardier looks east to lift order

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Its first-quarter backlog lagged competitors ATR and Embraer, but Canadian manufacturer Bombardier is looking to large US campaigns and opportunities in Russia and China, to avoid lapsing back into disappointing order levels.

Speaking during a presentation to discuss Bombardier's first-quarter results, chief executive Pierre Beaudoin pointed to the "large campaigns out there" - including 76-seat jets for American Eagle - and noted: "We'll get our fair share of renewals for large regional jets in the [USA]."

But competition will be stiff. Earlier this year, Republic Airways Holdings ordered 47 new E-175s to operate on behalf of American Eagle. United Airlines has unveiled orders for dozens of E-175s.

Bombardier will also be competing for North American orders with Mitsubishi Aircraft's MRJ regional jet, set to take its first flight in the fourth quarter of this year.

regional aircraft backlog may13 

Mitsubishi Aircraft director of marketing Yugo Fukuhara recently said the MRJ had secured 56% of the current wave of new regional jet orders from North American customers, although that was before SkyWest Airlines - a major MRJ customer - ordered up to 200 Embraer regional jets in mid-May.

Aside from North America, Beaudoin says that Bombardier also sees "great opportunities in Russia [that] we're working on" and says the company has "started to see some success again in China". In the Russian market, it will have to compete with Sukhoi, which claims to have 179 firm orders for its Superjet 100.

Bombardier expects "a series of smaller orders" for turboprops, in the "two-units or three-units range", says Beaudoin. "The good side is it doesn't depend on one or two campaigns, it depends on multiple campaignsthere are quite a few in the works right now and I feel we're in good shape."

Peter Morris, chief economist at Flightglobal's consultancy arm Ascend, believes Bombardier is "caught between a rock and a hard place".

"They've gone ahead with the CSeries so they can't be half-heartedly pushing it," he says. "Given the [dearth of] Q400 ­orders you can see why they would ease off the pedal on this."

Morris points out that business jets are "going reasonably well" for Bombardier. This, teamed with launching the CSeries, means the manufacturer "has its hands full", and any potential new development on the Q400 "could be quite a challenge on resources".

According to Richard Aboulafia, vice-president for analysis at US-based Teal Group, "the best [Bombardier] can do is gracefully manage the death of the CRJ" ahead of the 2018 entry of Embraer's re-engined E-Jet. Bombardier stated earlier this year, however, that it is committed to keeping its CRJ900 and CRJ1000 in production to compete.

Aboulafia urges Bombardier to "consider a stretch" on the Q400, although Morris points out: "There was talk of a stretched version of the Q400, but there's not much sign of that coming to pass. Orders for the Q400 have not been leaping off the page."

CSeries represents "a respectable effort to get into an entirely new marketplace", says Aboulafia. Bombardier's CSeries first-quarter backlog of 145 includes 63 CS100s and 82 CS300s. The first test flight of the CSeries is scheduled to take place in late June.

Canada's Porter Airlines has placed a conditional order for up to 30 CS100s, but this depends on approvals to operate it out of Toronto City Airport. Russian lessor Ilyushin Finance also has a conditional deal for up to 42 CSeries. "There are still a few steps to accomplish before it's confirmed," admits Beaudoin.

Morris believes there needs to be a "step change" in regional aircraft technology, particularly in the turboprop sector, and says that ATR has "the biggest potential" to make that change. "There's a bit of a gap at the top end of the regional aircraft scale and it's waiting for someone to make the first move."