Aviation

Bombardier may get an opening for CSeries jets

With no new orders for its CSeries jet in a year, Bombardier may be reinvigorated because rival Boeing wants to target a different slice of the biggest commercial jet market.

Boeing said last week that the company may build a successor to its narrow-body by 2019 that seats 150 to 220 people. That would leave the 100- to 150-seat category targeted by the CSeries "basically unaddressed with a new airplane," Bombardier CEO Pierre Beaudoin said.

Almost half of narrow-body planes in the air today, or 5,550 aircraft, are in that seat range and have an average age of 13 years, according to research firm Ascend. Beaudoin said he's believed since the CSeries' inception that airlines would need to replace some of them.

"There is a substantial market there, maybe not big enough for Boeing or Airbus, but we feel for us, more than 6,000 aircraft over the next 20 years is a great market," Beaudoin said.

Montreal-based Bombardier, the third-biggest planemaker, expects more orders in the short term for the CSeries, which is scheduled to enter service in 2013, Beaudoin said. He didn't provide a date.

The successor to Boeing's narrow-body 737, the world's most widely flown jet, will probably be wider than the current model, said Mike Bair, who heads the Boeing team studying the concept.

The second-biggest commercial-aircraft maker, Boeing prefers building an all-new plane to offering new engines on the existing aircraft as larger rival Airbus did with its narrow-body A320.

Boeing, which still hasn't committed itself to a narrow-body strategy, will make a firm decision on whether to build a new jet and what size it would be by June, Bair said. The smallest 737 sold now starts at 125 seats.

What the Chicago-based company decides is pivotal to carriers choosing between more-efficient aircraft from the three biggest planemakers amid a 27 percent gain in jet-fuel prices this year.

Airbus may not have a new narrow-body before 2027 as it doesn't expect enough engine technology advances before then to warrant a $10 billion development program, chief operating officer John Leahy has said.

Still, the A320neo, with upgraded engines, damages the business case for Bombardier's CSeries, Leahy said. Bertrand Grabowski, the DVB Bank board member responsible for aviation clients, concurred.

"Bombardier proposed a product that was definitely appealing, something airlines were ready to seriously consider," he said. "But now, things have changed. With Airbus proposing the neo and Boeing expected to answer in one way or another later this year, any airline looking at the Bombardier plane will say, 'I shall wait. What is my incentive today to the move to the CSeries? Zero.' "

Since the Toulouse, France-based Airbus introduced the A320neo in December, it has received commitments to buy 150 planes from IndiGo, the low-cost Indian airline, and orders from Virgin America Inc. and Tam Airlines of Brazil.

The CSeries has received no new orders since Republic Airways Holdings agreed to buy 40 jets and took options for 40 more about a year ago. Analysts have questioned whether that indicates a lack of demand for the aircraft, which will seat 100 to 149 passengers.

The aluminum-lithium and composite-plastic CSeries is a "good airplane that faces substantial challenges," said Doug Runte, a managing director at Piper Jaffray & Co. in New York.

"The 100-130 seat space is the Bermuda Triangle of airplane types," Runte said at the ICBI Geneva aircraft finance forum in late February. "I can think of five or six planes — some quite good — that were launched and went boldly into this space, only to never be seen again."

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