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Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates covers top industry events to bring you the latest news, highlighting how it impacts Boeing and its competitors.

June 24, 2011 at 4:00 AM

Bombardier's new CSeries: hanging in there at the Paris Air Show

Posted by Dominic Gates

Bombardier was looking for sales momentum at the Paris Air Show for its new CSeries single-aisle jet.
It got a little.

Friday morning in Paris, Bombardier announced a late-breaking order for ten of the jets from an unidentified European carrier.
Earlier in the week another unidentified carrier had ordered ten and Korean Air had committed to buy ten.
And before the Air Show, two deals had added 13 more firm orders.

The sales total more than a year out from first flight now stands at 123 firm orders from eight airlines, or 133 if you count the Korean Air commitment.

Gary Scott.jpg
John Leahy, head of sales at Airbus who announced more than 700 single-aisle jet sales this week at Le Bourget, scoffed at those puny numbers.

"It's pretty close to the walking dead right now," said Leahy. "The market has spoken. It's not selling very well."

But Gary Scott, head of commercial aviation at Bombardier, isn't fazed by Leahy's trash talk. (Above, Scott stands in front of a cabin mock-up of the CSeries at the Air Show, my photo.)
Scott said he's concerned about making the airplanes quickly enough, not about the demand.

"We are absolutely on track. I am not worried at all about getting orders," said Scott. "There are going to be more orders coming soon this year and more still into next."

The CSeries, designed for the 100- to 149-seat market, is scheduled to deliver its first airplane in late 2013, with a first flight next year.
It's Bombardier's move out of regional jets into the territory of Airbus and Boeing.

cseries cabin mockup.jpg
At the Air Show, Bombardier also showed off a cabin mock-up. The interior looked much like that of an Airbus or Boeing single-aisle except that the seats -- which were very comfortable -- were five-abreast instead of six.
(Bombardier photo right, with four abreast business class seats in foreground.)

Airbus busted sales records for single aisle jets in Paris. And Boeing is shaping up to announce something later this year, either a re-engine of its 737 or an all-new small jet.

Meanwhile both big planemakers are gearing up production of their current single-aisle jets to unprecedented levels -- up to 42 per month each -- because of massive demand in this airplane category.

So why can't Bombardier get more momentum going? Clearly there is a chicken-and-egg dilemma, with airlines reluctant to commit to a plane that has not yet won a market.

"They are trying to compete," said Marlin Dailey, head of sales at Boeing, said in an interview in Paris. "We're not seeing a huge amount of (competitive) pressure. The market ... has been slow to embrace it."

Leahy of Airbus has a more acerbic view, of course.

"They are dangerously close to making a very big financial decision," Leahy said.
He said the CSeries is at a key break point that comes in an airplane program if "you are selling very little, but just enough that you're so commited to the program you can't change your mind because the costs of getting out exceed the costs of staying with it."

But Scott thinks Leahy's ferocity is in defense of his competitive A319neo, which features the same new engine as the CSeries, the geared turbofan from Pratt & Whitney.

"Our airplane is 100 percent new. His only has a new engine," said Scott.

He claims the CSeries will have 20 percent better fuel efficiency than today's A319 and will still be 12 percent better than the rival A319neo coming in 2016.

As for Bombardier's big financial decision, it looks like that die is cast.

Bombardier has filled its wing factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland, with big tooling jigs (designed and built by Electroimpact of Everett).

It is fabricating and installing tools inside a new fuselage plant in China.

In Mirabel, Canada, it has completed a test facilty and is modifying an existing building to build the first test planes that will roll out in 2012.

Construction of a new final assembly building for production planes is set to begin there next year.

On the eve of the Air Show, I asked Steve Udvar-Hazy, aviation marketing guru and CEO of Air Lease Corp., how he assessed the CSeries.

"They are working very hard. You'll see some progress," Hazy said. "They need to make 2011 the year they can demonstrate some strong sales."

"2011 is critical for them," Hazy added. "Not necessarily at this Air Show, but this year."

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