AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes has confirmed that he is in preliminary talks to buy up to 100 Bombardier CSeries CS300 jets in a 160-seat configuration.
"We are taking this very seriously. It is an impressive aircraft and we have good feeling about it. The crew and engineers are very happy about it as well," he said after a tour of the CSeries cabin mock-up, on which the Canadian airframer electronically projected the AirAsia logo specially for the visit.
"The advantage is that the CSeries can get into a lot of airports to which we currently do not have access. And there is the price, and this looks like it could be a very affordable aircraft. We are a very big Airbus customer and so this is a very big decision."
He adds that these aircraft would supplement the low-cost airline fleet of Airbus A320s. The 200 A320 neo it has ordered will replace its existing fleet from 2016, but the CSeries could come in from 2016 as well, says Fernandes.
With the CS300 due to be delivered to its first customer in 2014, a year after its smaller variant the CS100, the development of the aircraft and the date of its actual entry into service will be crucial to AirAsia's decision, he adds.
Even more importantly, Bombardier have to prove that the operating cost of the aircraft will "make sense" for the airline, says Fernandes.
"We live and die by cost and that will be crucial, but we also hope that Pratt & Whitney, who are supplying the engines, will be as enthusiastic as Bombardier about this aircraft," he says.
It is still not clear if Bombardier will be able to squeeze 160 passengers into the CS300, with the company displaying a slim seat with a 28 inch pitch in the cabin mock-up. This could get up to 150 passengers, although that could change.
"This is a clean sheet design, and we will always be willing to go with the suppliers that the customers choose and reconfigure the cabin according to what they want," says Mike Arcamone, president of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft.