The day before the largest air show of the year opens here, Canada's Bombardier announced the bold launch of a new single-aisle jet family...

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FARNBOROUGH, England — The day before the largest air show of the year opens here, Canada’s Bombardier announced the bold launch of a new single-aisle jet family.

Called the CSeries and partly funded by the governments of Canada and Britain, it will go head to head with the smallest jets in the 737 and A320 lines built by Boeing and Airbus.

“To my friends in Seattle I would only say, this airplane’s for real,” said Gary Scott, president of Bombardier’s commercial-aircraft division, at a news conference Sunday. Scott is a former Boeing Commercial Airplanes executive who led 737 and 757 single-aisle jet production.

The success or failure of the plane may depend on whether its radically new, fuel-efficient engine represents a definitive breakthrough or will be superseded by other engines in development.

The jet will seat five passengers abreast in a cabin that is just 6 inches narrower than the six-abreast 737. A mock-up of the interior on display in Farnborough featured wide coach-class seats. It comes in 110- and 130-seater versions, the size of a Boeing 737-600 or 737-700 respectively.

The CSeries will be available starting in 2013 and will have a list price of about $47 million, executives said. The list price of a 737-700 is about $62 million.

The new family could appeal to airlines with aging, fuel-guzzling fleets that want replacements sooner than the end of the next decade, when Boeing has promised a successor to the 737.

“This is exactly what the airlines need,” said Scott. “It is an absolutely perfect replacement for aircraft like MD-80s and DC-9s … It also is a good replacement for six-abreast aircraft like the classic 737s.”

Scott said the plane will burn as little as 0.85 gallon of fuel per passenger per 100 miles, “a new benchmark as little as two liters of fuel per passenger per 100 kilometer.”

The new engine also produces one fifth less carbon-dioxide emissions and will be four times quieter than other jets, making the CSeries “the greenest single-aisle aircraft in its class,” said Scott.

Montreal-based Bombardier is known as a manufacturer of trains, turboprop commuter planes, business jets and regional jets.

It estimates the market for planes in this larger-size category — between 100 and 150 seats — at about 6,300 jets over 20 years.

Scott said the CSeries can win up to half of those orders.

Boeing has forecast a market of about $2.8 trillion for the entire mainline jet market from 100 seats up to 500 and beyond, he said.

“There’s just a lousy half trillion below 150 seats,” said Scott, with a deadpan delivery. “They ought to leave that to Bombardier and others.”

A Boeing spokesman in London declined to comment Sunday and said Boeing’s chief executive for commercial airplanes will address questions about the new competitor at his air-show news conference this morning.

The CSeries fuselage will be built in Shenyang, China, from a light aluminum/lithium alloy and shipped complete to the final-assembly site in Montreal.

The wings, made from carbon-fiber-reinforced composites, will be built in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Bombardier said one-third of the plane’s development costs of about $3.2 billion will be financed by the company and one-third by its suppliers.

The remaining third will come from governments of Canada and Britain and the regional governments of Quebec and Northern Ireland.

Britain will contribute $310 million to provide more than 800 jobs in Belfast.

Canada’s share is almost $470 million. The CSeries will provide 1,000 direct engineering and support jobs in Montreal; by 2017, the work force should be about 3,500.

Almost all of this money is in the form of “repayable launch investment.”

These launch-aid subsidies could be challenged at the World Trade Organization (WTO), where the U.S. has a pending suit against the European Union to stop government launch aid to Airbus. (The EU has a countersuit to stop Boeing subsidies.)

In the 1990s, Brazilian regional jet maker Embraer and Bombardier also had dueling countersuits at the WTO over the same issue. Both were found to have taken illegal subsidies.

A footnote in a British government news release at the Farnborough ceremony said “the launch investment is repayable, not a grant, and earns a real rate of return.”

Apart from legal action, one possible competitive response from Boeing and Airbus might be to cut their prices for planes in this size category.

“Slashing their prices … is not really a sustainable strategy,” said Scott. “Boeing doesn’t like to lose money.”

The CSeries might also spur Embraer to stretch its smaller E-190 and E-195 jets.

But Scott said, “We’ll take on anybody. Our business case assumes very tough competition.”

CSeries program director Benjamin Boehm said the plane will be 20 percent more efficient than the smaller regional jets of Embraer, with an even higher percentage advantage — “in the high 20s” — over the Boeing jets.

About 12 percent of that projected advantage comes from the new Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan engine. The rest comes from aerodynamic improvements.

Scott said Bombardier has done an intensive technical evaluation of the engine, which puts a gearbox on the fan to optimize its speed of rotation, cutting noise as well as increasing efficiency.

Pratt has spent more than $1 billion to develop the geared turbofan. The engine has undergone 250 hours of tests running on the ground and will soon fly for the first time.

Rival engine-maker General Electric has tried to cast doubt on the new engine’s reliability, arguing that the gear will wear and require more maintenance.

Sunday in London, GE tried to steal some of Pratt’s thunder by announcing a new engine core program “that will provide up to 16 percent better fuel efficiency than today’s engines.”

And CFM International, the U.S./French joint venture between GE and Snecma that is the sole engine supplier on the 737, announced the LEAP-X program, “an entirely new baseline turbofan engine” to power the successors to the 737 and A320 narrow-body aircraft.

But Bombardier is fully committed to Pratt now.

“We are absolutely satisfied they are going to be able to deliver as advertised,” Scott said.

One thing the CSeries lacks so far is substantial airline commitments.

A single customer, Lufthansa, announced Sunday “letters of interest” for 30 of the airplanes, with options for 30 more.

An expression of interest lacks any financial commitment so it is far short of a firm order.

Lufthansa Senior Vice President Nico Buchholz said the airline could deploy the planes with subsidiary airlines within the Lufthansa Group, including Swiss Airlines or regional partners that now fly old BAe 146/Avro regional jets.

Lufthansa has between 20 and 40 Airbus A320s still on order and intends to take them, said Buchholz.

Further CSeries order commitments are expected at Farnborough this week.

Leasing giant ILFC is expected to commit to 50 and Qatar Airways to about 15, said Toronto-based Jacques Kavafian, an analyst with Research Capital.

He said negotiations are also continuing with China Southern but are not expected to be concluded in time for the show.

All those prospective customers are big players in the aviation world. Kavafian predicted the plane will be a huge success.

How big? Boehm said Bombardier has planned a production capacity that could deliver almost 20 of the jets each month at peak rates.

One possible response from the two biggest jet makers would be to put the Pratt engine on the 737 or the A320, said aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia.

“If it works as planned, I don’t think they could afford to give Bombardier more than a couple of years on the market alone with this engine,” said Aboulafia.

Issaquah-based analyst Scott Hamilton of Leeham.net disagreed. He believes re-engining the 737 would be too costly and too unappealing to airlines.

“Boeing is looking for a permanent solution, not an interim one,” said Hamilton. “I think Boeing would rather wait and do some enhancements in aerodynamics and to the [current 737 engine], and then design an entirely new airplane and take the next leap.”

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com