Larger CSeries CS500 would be "ideal" for Southwest: AirInsight

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Bombardier should add a 150-seat, single-class CS500 with 32in pitch to its CSeries family, as such an aircraft would be "highly competitive" and provide an "ideal" replacement jet for Southwest Airlines, a new industry report suggests.

La Jolla, California-based consultancy AirInsight, which has conducted a comprehensive study into the economics of the CS500, estimates that the aircraft "would be 16% better than the A320neo", the new engine option being offered by Airbus, and "24% better than" the Boeing 737-800 with winglets.

Bombardier's current CSeries portfolio includes the 110-seat CS100 and the 130-seat CS300, which in highest-density configuration can seat 149 passengers. Service entry of the CS100 is scheduled for 2013. The Canadian airframer has not launched a CS500, although it has trademarked the name CS500, along with the name CS900.

Calling talk of a CSeries stretch "speculation", Bombardier says it trademarked CS500 and CS900 "purely to protect these designations and that nothing more should be read into it".

Nonetheless, AirInsight and other industry analysts believe Bombardier would be well-placed to capture business with the likes of Southwest if it opted to offer a larger-sized CSeries variant.

"We do believe that Bombardier should offer a 150-seat single-class airplane with 32in pitch. Such a plane would provide a highly competitive aircraft for an airline like Southwest Airlines, which has nearly 175 Boeing 737 Classics (approximately 100 of which are not equipped with winglets: 25 737-500s at 125 seats and 73 737-300s)," says AirInsight.

It notes that the CS300 "is a good replacement for the 737-500s as is, but it carries seven fewer passengers than the 137-passenger -300s in Southwest's configuration". As such, a 149-seat CS500 - requiring one fewer flight attendant than 150 seats - would "be a perfect replacement" for the 737-300 and -300s with winglets, it says.

Similarly, a transition to a CS100 or CS300 to replace the Boeing 717s being acquired as part of Southwest's merger with AirTran Airways, "would then make sense from a fleet compatibility standpoint", says AirInsight.

Release of the firm's report comes one week after Airbus launched the A320neo for the A319, A320 and A321, saying it will offer two engine choices: the CFM International Leap-X and Pratt & Whitney PurePower PW1100G, and will incorporate "sharklet" wingtips. Airbus estimates fuel savings of up to 15%, representing up to 3,600t of annual carbon dioxide savings per aircraft.

Asked if Airbus' decision to launch the A320neo has given Bombardier further incentive to launch a CS500, Bombardier says: "Absolutely not. Before we launched CSeries, we had anticipated a bigger competitive response (such as an all-new aircraft) than what was announced last week. Any re-engined competitor still falls significantly short of CSeries in terms of serving up a game changer in that market segment."

Bombardier acknowledges that a glance at CSeries orders thus far "shows a distinct bias toward CS300, the larger of our two models". However, the firm stresses that there is "no timeline" for making a decision on a CS500.

"We will keep listening to our customers and remain focussed on delivering the most optimized commercial solution in the 100- to 149-seat range," adds Bombardier.

Boeing, meanwhile, has yet to announce its future plans for the 737. AirInsight points out that the firm looks increasingly likely to bypass a re-engining of the 737 (737RE), believing that technology exists to develop a viable new airplane concept with an EIS for 2019-2020.

"With the economic recovery proceeding, a decision by Boeing that appears to favour bypassing a 737RE and finally a commitment to proceed with the A320neo, we believe that Bombardier will begin seeing more [CSeries] orders in 2011," adds the firm.