Canadian manufacturer opens talks on Russian Regional Jet involvement and briefs airlines on CRJ900 stretch

Bombardier is on the verge of shelving its proposed CSeries airliner project and has opened talks with Sukhoi over joining the Russian Regional Jet (RRJ) programme, say industry sources close to the Canadian project.

As part of this dramatic development, Bombardier is also understood to be negotiating an agreement with Finmeccanica’s Alenia Aeronautica division. Finmeccanica is expected to decide in February whether to take a 25% stake in the RRJ programme for around $250 million. In the meantime, Bombardier is also briefing airlines on an interim solution, a four-seat stretch of the CRJ900, dubbed the -900X, which could be available from 2008 powered by uprated General Electric CF34-8 turbofans.

The RRJ move, if confirmed, comes at the end of a frustrating period for Bombardier which as recently as December said it was still in “advanced negotiations” with potential CSeries launch customers worldwide. The planned launch of the CSeries was put off several times last year, and Bombardier says: “Right now we are in a number of discussions with our partners, and until these are concluded we will not be in a position to decide whether to launch the programme.”

Sources say mounting concerns over the estimated costs of the venture, added to the uncertain market demand for the 110- to 130-seat aircraft, appear to have killed off the CSeries and prompted Bombardier to consider a collaboration with Sukhoi on the RRJ, which, ironically, closely resembles the former’s long-abandoned BRJ-X airliner project.

The RRJ, meanwhile, appears to be alive and well. Aeroflot Russian Airlines signed a deal in December with Sukhoi for 30 RRJ-95s for delivery from November 2008. The carrier plans to acquire about half the 86-seaters on finance lease and half on operating lease, but funding has yet to be finalised.

The proposed amalgamation of Bombardier with the RRJ, while expected to add credibility to the Russian-led project, is also certain to open up a mass of new questions over the already well-advanced final configuration of the aircraft, the final engine type and the possibility of long-term strategic links with Boeing, which aided in the initial design.

The RRJ is baselined with the NPO Saturn/Snecma SaM146 engine, while Pratt & Whitney Canada had been preparing to develop a new engine for the CSeries based on its PW800 demonstrator. The Bombardier move therefore raises questions about a possible new engine competition.

The CSeries airliner project was well capitalised and had secured multi-million dollar development loans from the Canadian and UK governments with the signing of letters of intent with Bombardier on 13 May, including a C$400 million ($320 million) research and development loan from Canada and a C$100 million commitment from the UK.

A further C$350 million was being contributed by the Quebec government as part of an estimated $700 million government commitment that Bombardier says was essential for the CSeries programme to proceed.


Source: Flight International