Having pitched presentations and flown their regional jets for Alitalia's senior executives, employees and top frequent flyers, Bombardier and Embraer are each expressing confidence that they will beat Sukhoi in the three-way contest for the carrier's next order.
Alitalia wants to replace its fleet of 10 Bombardier CRJ900s and six Embraer 170s, and is scrutinising the Bombardier CRJ900/1000, the Embraer 190 and the Sukhoi Superjet 100. All three manufacturers made their case for Alitalia's business in Rome last week.
"We got a chance to tell our story, explain the airplane, go through the key points of the economics and then fly, and the airplane showed great. The CRJ900 in [Alitalia's] current fleet is not the NextGen model. That's why it was so startling, when [Alitalia and loyalty members] came on the airplane. There were lots of 'oohs' and 'ahhs' about the bigger bins, more light and bigger windows," says Bombardier European sales vice-president Steven Aliment.
Bombardier believes it has a strong advantage over the other manufacturers by virtue of the fact that Alitalia already knows the CRJ. "We have a great commonality story that translates into economic value in terms of pilots, technicians, ramp people and spare parts. You take that and wrap it with the overall economics of the CRJ and we are by far the better economic choice," says Aliment.
He adds: "We are so much better [than the competitors] that Alitalia would have get out and find 200,000 more passengers every year to reach the level of profitability that they would reach with our aircraft."
Embraer, however, is equally confident in winning a new order from Alitalia.
"Alitalia is under a lot of pressure to look maybe with different eyes due to the association of the Italians with Sukhoi, but it's not a given that they will go for this solution," says the Brazilian airframer's executive vice-president for the airline market Paulo Cesar Silva.
"I think they will buy - at the end - the most efficient aircraft and we believe the E-Jets are the most efficient ones available."
Italy has strong links to the Superjet programme, through the participation of Alenia Aeronautica in Sukhoi's civil aircraft division and the Venice-based marketing firm for the twinjet, Superjet International.
Bombardier's Aliment says: "People forget or don't realise because we're a Canadian company just how much Italian content we have on that airplane. We do a heck of a lot of work in Italy, not only on the CRJ, but on the CSeries and on our rail transport. So we're a big part of the economic fabric of Italy as a manufacturer and a partner."
Embraer's Silva says the invitation from Alitalia indicated that "they are very keen to look at all available options, but they want to have an efficient airline and therefore they must have an efficient fleet and so I think they will do a very deep assessment on the alternatives they have in the market".
Sources in Italy suggest that the three-way demonstration opened with expectations that the Superjet would outperform its rivals on short- to medium-length high-traffic, high-value routes such as those between Milan Linate and Rome, while offering Airbus A320 comfort levels.