Over the past four months, the competitive landscape in the small-narrowbody jet market has been turned upside down. Bombardier has agreed to give Airbus control of the CSeries programme and open a new final assembly line in Alabama. Boeing is in discussions to construct some kind of combination with Embraer. If both deals reach fruition, the regional-jet sector will never be the same.

Both moves followed Boeing’s May 2017 decision to file an anti-dumping and countervailing duty complaint with the US Department of Commerce citing Bombardier’s acknowledged financial loss on the sale of 75 CS100s to Delta Air Lines. Within months, the implications of that complaint reverberated across the industry from Montreal to Toulouse to Sao Jose dos Campos and back to Boeing’s headquarters in Chicago.

However, in a twist that nobody anticipated, the US International Trade Commission voted on 26 January to void the 292% tariff assessed on CSeries imports by commerce secretary Wilbur Ross. The reasoning behind the negative votes of the four commissioners will not be known until a redacted report is released in February.

More plot twists are possible, however. The commissioners have two grounds for voiding the tariff: they did so either because they found that Boeing was not financially harmed by the Delta sale because it has no products that compete with the CS100, or because the imports have not yet begun. If it is the former, Boeing can only appeal through the federal court system. If it is the latter, Bombardier could face the 292% tariff as soon as deliveries to Delta begin.

In either case, Boeing is still grappling with the immediate consequences of its complaint. That has already cost the company a multibillion-dollar opportunity to sell F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to Canada. It also drove Bombardier to partner with Airbus, a move that either inspired or accelerated Boeing’s interest in Embraer.

For customers, the outcome of all these moves is already certain: there will be fewer and more powerful competitors in the small-narrowbody segment. Instead of attracting four different bids for each sales campaign, airlines in the future may receive only two – and those from perhaps the two most powerful manufacturers in any industry.

In perhaps the most unexpected twist of all, Boeing’s stated goal to promote a level playing field for global trade may instead simply tilt the levers of power even more towards itself and Airbus.

Source: Flight International