Paul Lewis/WASHINGTON DC Andrew Doyle/MUNICH

Bombardier has held tentative discussions with airlines on the potential for developing a small regional jet version of its recently launched Continental mid-size business aircraft to counter the Embraer ERJ-135/140 and Fairchild 328/428JET.

The Canadian manufacturer is understood to have made presentations to a number of customer airlines that have ordered or operate the 50-seat CRJ-200 regional jet, including Air Canada and Northwest Airlines. Despite claims to the contrary by Bombardier, a senior airline executive told Flight International: "It's a lot more than just a paper idea."

Industry sources confirm that provision for a 35-40-seat passenger version dates back two years to when Bombardier first solicited partners for a new "super mid-size" business jet. This size jet has appeal for carriers such as American Eagle and Northwest Airlink, which can operate unlimited numbers of jets below 45-seat jets under current pilot scope clause agreements

The Continental was launched in June as an eight seat, 5,750km (3,100nm) range business jet. It is designed around a 2.18m (7.14ft) cabin cross-section, identical in width to the three-abreast 328/428JET and marginally larger than the ERJ135/140 (2.10m). An 1.85m high cabin fits in between that of the 34- and 44-seat Fairchild family and smaller Brazilian jet series. The additional seating would almost certainly entail a stretch of the Continental's planned 5.03m-long cabin.

Bombardier's development of a regional jet derivative could closely mirror that of the company's earlier CL-600 Challenger business aircraft, which in 1989 formed the building block for the CRJ-100 and later -200 regional jet. The Allied Signal AS907 engine selected for the Continental is essentially the same powerplant as that planned for the improved 70- to 100-seat Avro RJ-X regional jet.

The ERJ-135 and 328JET entered service this year and the stretched ERJ-140 and 428JET will follow in 2001 and 2002.

Source: Flight International