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OPINION: Airbus and Boeing can revitalise small narrowbody market

For all the understandable headlines around the ­arrival of aerospace’s big two in the regional jet sector, there remains an unanswered question at the heart of the issue: will Airbus and Boeing finally be the catalyst for demand in this part of the market?

When Bombardier launched what is now the A220 family in 2008, it forecast that the 100-150-seat ­segment would generate more than 6,000 deliveries over the following 20 years.

We are now halfway through that period and only about 800 aircraft in that size class (and not just the CSeries) have actually been delivered. There appears to have been a shocking analytical mistake.

Some people are sceptical about OEM forecasts but, in fact, they are remarkably accurate predictors of macroeconomic demand, with a couple of outlier exceptions. The 100-150-seat category is one such case.

For reasons that are not fully explained, the Boeing 737-700, Airbus A318, A319, Embraer 195 and, yes, the A220-100 and -300 have failed to live up to the expectations of the industry’s best economists.

It may be that their models are simply errant. It is possible that airlines simply have no need for an ­aircraft sized between a large regional jet and a medium-sized narrowbody.

Indeed, there was even a question mark over ­Airbus’s sudden optimism for the sector as it took over the CSeries, particularly because it seemed to contradict its own market outlook. Back in October, the ­European manufacturer put 20-year demand for aircraft in the A220-size class at 4,450 units – flat on previous predictions and a declining proportion of the overall narrowbody market.

On the other hand, it could be that nobody has come up with the right package – which includes not just the product, but the credibility of the manufacturer to support and sell the jets as well.

Airbus’s new ownership of the A220 family and Boeing’s tentative agreement to acquire ownership of the E195, as well as the rest of the E-Jet range will, if anything, answer the mystery of what is keeping the 100-150-seat sector from complying with the industry’s predictions.

JetBlue Airways’ order for 60 A220-300s less than 10 days after Airbus took over the programme probably indicates the answer.

The coming days at the Farnborough air show are likely to provide even more clarity.

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