In an air show dominated by Airbus A320neo orders, Bombardier's CSeries announcements - that it has signed a firm pact with an undisclosed carrier for 10 CS100s plus six options and a tentative agreement with Korean Air for up to 30 CS300s - may seem like small beer.

To the Canadian airframer, however, the deals further underscore the fact that the Pratt & Whitney PurePower PW1500-powered CSeries is no longer a paper airplane and that the market segment at which it is targeted, the 100- to 149-seat small narrowbody category, is a niche that needs to be filled.

The awards also signal growing industry confidence in the programme, which has endured a fair amount of scepticism in the years since Bombardier formally launched the CSeries in mid-2008, and most especially in recent months as Airbus has racked up customers for the A320neo.

"Change is in the air," Bombardier Commercial Aircraft president Gary Scott happily declared in Paris on announcing the Korean Air letter of intent, which includes firm orders for 10 CS300s, with options on another 10 and purchase rights for a further 10. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2015.

Scott's enthusiasm was shared by Korean Air senior vice-president for the corporate strategy and planning division, Walter Cho, who said: "The first 10 [are] going to be firmed right away, as soon as we get board approval, within the month. After that, I believe we have to firm our options two years prior to delivery date and I'm pretty sure we'll do it.

Bombardier CSeries
 © Bombardier

"Additionally, we have our subsidiary low-cost carrier in Korea and they are in real need of aircraft soon, so we are looking into purchasing in their name to sub-lease to them for their use, and so 30 aircraft is not that much. We might have to order more soon."

Impressed with the CSeries' targeted fuel efficiency and "environmental friendliness", Cho went so far as to urge fellow SkyTeam alliance member Delta Air Lines to order the aircraft. Delta is studying its options for replacing an aging fleet of McDonnell Douglas MD-80s.

"Delta is a very large airline and they are very good partners with us, and I know a little bit about their fleet and their route characteristics. They are operating hundreds of cities within the US and South America and this will be a perfect airplane for them because I believe they are looking at large quantities," said Cho.

The Korean Air executive also believes that the CSeries and A320neo can happily co-exist in a fleet.

"We looked into A320neos. I wouldn't say we selected [the CSeries] over the Neo. We're still looking into [the Neo]. But it's not in the same category in size. We're looking into larger A320s because they are a very good aircraft."

Bombardier's firm pact for 10 CS100s from an undisclosed customer, meanwhile, is also important in its own right. The operator is a "major network carrier", said Bombardier. Perhaps more significantly, the top-tier carrier has agreed to become Bombardier's launch operator for the CS100, which is expected to enter into service in 2013.

One possible dark cloud on the horizon is the tentative agreement from CSeries customer Republic Holdings for 40 Airbus A319neos powered by the CFM International Leap-X1A engine, rather than the Pratt & Whitney alternative. Bombardier insists Republic's CSeries order is still robust and that the CSeries and A319neo can co-exist.

Source: Flight International