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Purser: Bombardier’s Decision

To go or not to go with the CSeries? It can’t be put off much longer.


September 27, 2007
By Richard Purser

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Two opposing views presented themselves in the May/June issue of this
magazine. In his column on page 6 Drew McCarthy, the present editor,
wrote that “Bombardier will almost certainly continue the development
of its CSeries.” But in his column on page 18, McCarthy’s predecessor
as editor, David Carr, wrote that “the CSeries seems to be going
nowhere.”

So that prompts this former editor (1996-2001) to weigh in with a look at these two views.

McCarthy
based his opinion on the analysis of Bombardier’s latest Business
Aircraft Market Forecast, which sees an emerging trend toward larger
regional aircraft. He quotes Bombardier as saying that this, “coupled
with sustained higher fuel prices, will reinforce operators’
requirement for modern aircraft with low operating costs.” Thus, the
CSeries.

Carr was writing about the new book Boeing Versus
Airbus by John Newhouse, which observes that the two largest aircraft
manufacturers are coming closer to the orbit of the two next-largest
manufacturers, Bombardier and Embraer, but will be building their new
aircraft in those competing categories using lighter-weight materials
from the B787 and A350 programs that neither the Canadian nor Brazilian
manufacturer can currently match.

Meanwhile, “having pioneered
the regional jet concept,” Carr wrote, “Bombardier appears to have
stumbled against Embraer’s 190 family.” The impending CSeries decision
might be the Bombardier commercial airplane division’s “chance to make
the next great technological leap or exit the game altogether.”

Carr seems to lean to the latter decision, which would leave Bombardier with its business jets and its commercial turboprops.

The
present writer last weighed in on the subject in the November/December
2005 issue with the observation that Bombardier “must soon make perhaps
the most momentous decision in its checkered history” and that “either
a go or a no-go decision could make or break the company, or at least
its passenger jet division, and no one seems to be quite sure which
decision will lead to which result.”

Well, the decision was not
made “soon.” The project was suspended on Jan. 31, 2006. If a “go”
decision had in fact been made at that time, the CSeries could have
been in service in 2010. Resumption of work on the project was
announced exactly one year after that suspension. If a “go” decision
were to be made today, the target service date would be 2013.

Bombardier’s
current largest aircraft are the CRJ700 (64-75 seats), CRJ900 (86-90
seats) and CRJ1000 (up to 100 seats). “NextGen” versions of these
aircraft were announced May 31, featuring “significant operating cost
improvements, an all-new cabin and the increased use of composite
materials.”

Embraer’s larger “E-Jets” are the 190 (98-114 seats)
and the 195 (108-122 seats). Bombardier’s CSeries would include the
C110 (99-125 seats) and – possibly – the C130 (122-145 seats). This
would be in the territory of the ‘big boys,’ competing against such
currently successful aircraft as the B737-600 (132 seats), B737-700
(149 seats), A319 (124 seats) and A320 (150 seats).

A risky business!

What
I said a year and a half ago still stands; this is a make-or-break
decision for Bombardier’s passenger jet division, and what David Carr
said more recently also still stands: Bombardier is about to either
make a great technological leap or exit the game. But I tend to agree
with Drew Mc- Carthy that Bombardier will continue with CSeries
development. The program is well advanced, and there will probably be a
“go” decision if sufficient initial orders can be secured.

Bombardier
is on a roll. It had a good fiscal 2007, and this past February-April
(the first quarter of fiscal 2008) built on that success. In that
quarter Bombardier Aerospace received orders for 174 aircraft, up from
52 in the same quarter a year earlier, giving it a $15.4-billion order
backlog. These new orders included 83 business jets, 38 Q400 turboprops
and 53 regional jets, the category we’re concerned with here. Since
that quarter ended, Bombardier has sold 14 more CRJ900s to Delta Air
Lines and 15 more Q400s to Flybe, a low-cost European regional carrier
based in Exeter, Devon, and billing itself as “UK’s leading non-London
centric airline.”

Bombardier Inc. CEO Laurent Beaudoin and son
Pierre, president of Bombardier Aerospace, will surely have to make
their CSeries decision by next year.

I’m glad my name isn’t Beaudoin.