The Bombardier CSeries is the only new commercial jet at this year's Paris Air Show. It looks impressive, yet the plane is late and has few sales. A new mangement team is trying to save the program.
Paris – The only new commercial jet at this year’s Paris Air Show, the Bombardier CSeries, has been greeted with both enthusiasm for the airplane itself and great skepticism about the program’s ability to recover from years of delays and cost overruns.
A jet once seen as a bright new rival to the single-aisle jets of Airbus and Boeing is flying well at Le Bourget. Inside, it looks good. But sales have been stalled for years.
“With the airplane being here in Paris, debuting at the Air Show, flying circuits every afternoon, it’s generated more interest. People like the aircraft,” said John Plueger, president and chief operating officer of Air Lease Corp., a respected figure in the aviation business. “But what Bombardier needs is orders, orders, orders.”
Aengus Kelly, chief executive of giant lessor Aercap, praised the new management team brought in earlier this year in a major clean-out as Bombardier entered crisis mode. But he said “taking on Boeing and Airbus in the core of their product, that’s just very challenging.”
“We like the new guys they hired. They used to work for us. Maybe they will prove the doubters wrong,” said Kelly. “Good luck to them, but it’s a challenge.”
One of those guys is Fred Cromer, who after years in the airline industry was hired to work at aircraft lessor ILFC by Plueger, then stayed for the transition under Kelly when Aercap bought ILFC last year. In April, Bombardier hired him as president of its Commercial Aircraft unit.
“Yes, delays. Yes, cost overruns,” said Cromer, pointing out — without naming names — that these are common enough in new airplane programs. “But the product that is the final outcome, we feel very, very good about.”
He brought to Le Bourget not one, but two different CSeries variants, both taking time out from flight tests: the smaller CS100 for ground tours and the larger CS300 to fly in the daily aerial displays.
The CS100 on the ground featured an interior with a high center ceiling, wider economy seats than a Boeing 737 at 18.5 inches, big stowbins and windows as large as those on a 777 widebody jet. In the impressive cockpit, the pilot has large LCD flat-panel displays, the latest in avionics equipment.
The CS300 drew attention in the air, powered by its impressively quiet new Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan engines.
Most positively, on the eve of the Air Show Bombardier announced that flight tests had gone so well that the CSeries will feature better performance on entering service than promised at launch, with extra range and payload and better fuel burn.
Launched by Canadian plane-maker Bombardier seven years ago at the Farnborough Air Show near London, the CSeries single-aisle jet family was an all-new design for the 100- to 150-seat market and was seen as a potential rival to the smaller jets in the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320 jet families. But thoughts of a Canadian threat to the global duopoly faded as delays pushed out its debut in the market.
With the flight tests going well, the jet is finally scheduled to enter service in the first half of next year. But that’s up to two-and-a-half years late. Worse, in the interim, Airbus and Boeing launched new versions of their single-aisle jets with similar new-generation engines — the A320neo and the 737 MAX — that have garnered thousands of orders and swamped the market.
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With carbon composite wings, a metal fuselage, the new fuel-efficent engines and a clean-sheet design optimized for its size category, the CSeries jets will still have 10 percent better fuel burn than the MAX and neo, Bombardier said. And yet, few have been sold.
Cromer insisted he’s optimistic that the aircraft’s performance can win a good chunk of what Bombardier estimates is a 7,000-jet market for that small-size airplane.
“At this Air Show, we’re demonstrating that the plane is a success, that it is a real program,” said Cromer. “We’ll build that momentum.”
Plueger said the new management team must land “significant, major orders from established, well-respected airlines.”
He said Airbus and Boeing are likely to fight every sales campaign to try to keep Bombardier shut out. At a briefing here on Monday, Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner said the CS300, which in a high-density configuration can now take 160 passengers, “will be stepping into our marketplace.”
“We look forward to that (competitive) opportunity — with great gusto,” said Conner.
To beat the big guys, Plueger said, “pricing is the key” for Bombardier, along with offering performance guarantees and warranties.
He said the management “reboot” of the CSeries program at least offers a chance of success. He thinks the new team has about a year to work with, but needs to show significant progress by the time of the Farnborough Air Show next year.
“The industry expects some significant orders either in the course of the year or to be announced at Farnborough,” Plueger said.
For the CSeries, it’s the last chance for survival.