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OPINION: Bombardier's commercial aerospace exit is self-inflicted

Once upon a time, in the not so distant past, ­Bombardier was the third-largest manufacturer of commercial aircraft in the world, behind the industry’s big two of Airbus and Boeing.

But with the departure of the CSeries in July, and now the sale of the Q400 turboprop airliner, those heady days seem but a distant memory.

The Canadian airframer’s aerospace operation – so painstakingly assembled through acquisition – is looking increasingly sparse.

Aside from its business aviation division – comprising the relatively robust Challenger and Global families, as well as the floundering Learjet – Bombardier Aerospace is now built on the CRJ regional jet and its aerostructures unit.

However, the noises coming out of Bombardier’s Montreal HQ seem to indicate that the CRJ line will eventually be divested as well.

Bombardier seems increasingly like the Black Knight in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail who, as each limb is hacked away, pronounces that “’tis but a scratch”.

This slow dismemberment has many causes, not least of which were the crippling debts acquired during the development of the CSeries – now the Airbus A220.

There was other, unseen, damage caused by the costly gestation: engineering and management resources were sunk into the programme to the detriment of the CRJ and Q400, as Bombardier has belatedly acknowledged.

And while Bombardier was busy fixing the CSeries, competitors ATR and Embraer were equally busy ­winning the battle for regional aircraft sales.

For instance, in the USA alone, Embraer suggests it has taken a share of over 85% in the market for 75-seat aircraft. ATR, meanwhile, has inflicted similar damage in the turboprop segment. Unfortunately for Bombardier, it has found those injuries difficult to recover from.

What, then, for the remaining rump of Bombardier Aerospace? Providing the remaining problems with the business jet division – chiefly Learjet – can be resolved, then the operation looks more stable – healthy, even.

The outlook for the aerostructures operation is harder to divine, however. Does it have enough in-house work, or are more third-party contracts required? Or, perish the thought, is a new owner needed for long-term stability?

Bombardier still boasts that it offers the “future of mobility”, but that claim looks increasingly hollow unless you are very rich, or travel on the rails.

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