Bombardier has finally moved the CSeries on to a firmer footing with the signing of a firm deal from Lufthansa after eight months of negotiations. But questions remain over the programme after another key prospect - Qatar Airways - revealed it had broken off talks.
Lufthansa's supervisory board last week approved the launch commitment of 30 firm orders, plus 30 options, placed for the 110/130-seat, Pratt & Whitney PW1000G geared turbofan-powered CSeries family in July last year. The airline has selected the smaller CS100 variant, which will be delivered as a 115-seater to its Swiss International Air Lines subsidiary from 2014, replacing BAE Systems Avro RJ100s.
Bombardier is known to be in discussions with at least two other prospective customers - an unnamed operating lessor for up to 40 CSeries and Mongolian regional carrier Eznis Airways for seven. However, long-running discussions with the other major potential airline client, Qatar Airways, have ended after the two sides could not agree terms, leaving Lufthansa as the only customer so far.
"Given the context, this is a high-risk order, but a firm order makes all the difference," says Richard Aboulafia, who is vice-president analysis at Teal Group. "But this programme is still burdened with an extraordinary amount of risk, on both the demand and the production sides. It's a weak market and Airbus and Boeing will react aggressively."
Bombardier commercial aircraft president Gary Scott says the airframer is "not in a panic" to secure additional CSeries orders in the current tough economic climate. "There still is a lot of interest in this programme and a lot of customer discussions going on. So despite the very difficult times we're in, I do anticipate some additional orders this year and of course more as we go into the year after."
Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker told Flight International that talks on a potential CSeries deal were "in the freezer because we require certain conditions from Bombardier for us to consider the aircraft, for which they are not capitulating". However, he concedes that "if they oblige, maybe we will reconsider".
Scott says that the two sides are "at a point where we'll take a step back. It often happens that you also get back together and complete the deals."
Although Lufthansa deliveries are due to start in 2014, Scott says that service entry for the CSeries is still planned for the second half of 2013 so "they are not maybe the first operator".