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OPINION: Going Mobile may be start of A220's rebirth

Bombardier launched the CSeries on 31 July 2008, but the most notable date in the troubled history of the aircraft now known as the A220 may prove to be 16 January 2019.

On that date, Airbus ceremoniously marked the ground-breaking for a Mobile facility that the company says will soon start churning out US-made A220s.

Call it a rebirth; a second coming; reincarnation.

Airbus has owned the A220 for a little over seven months, having acquired the programme for nothing from a desperate Bombardier in July 2018.

And while the A220 remains a niche aircraft – both in production rate and orders – the programme has shown signs of new life since Airbus took control.

Look no further than the A220's two primary US customers: Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways.

True, Delta purchased A220s on Bombardier's watch – a major win, despite rumours of the low prices paid – but the carrier recently raised that order by 15 units.

But the JetBlue deal had proved elusive for Bombardier, which was battling against Embraer and its E195-E2. In the end, victory went not to Bombardier, but to Airbus, which announced the order from the New York airline as it took over the A220.

That deal in particular seemed to suggest that Airbus has the commercial heft and business relationships needed to convince more large US operators.

Delta has already started receiving A220s and JetBlue's deliveries are due to begin in 2020. The pair seem likely to deploy the type in major markets, New York, for instance, but Delta also plans to fly A220s into the strongholds of major rivals American Airlines and United Airlines.

Some observers have suggested the very presence of the new jets in such large and hotly defended markets may force other carriers to respond with A220 orders of their own – especially if those airlines are competing with cramped 50-seat regional aircraft.

Airbus also has a better-than-average shot at landing a deal to sell A220s to Spirit Airlines, not least because it already counts the carrier as a large customer.

Meanwhile, Airbus's public relations team has been working overtime to hammer home a made-in-the-USA message, stressing that it is building the A220 assembly plant specifically for the home market.

If US airlines are receptive to that message, the Mobile site could eventually prove to be the foundation of the A220's turnaround.

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