CSeries 100, will it ever find its destiny in the Australian outback?

Devoid of more ‘quality’ orders and at risk of losing some that it already has the Quebec plane and train maker Bombardier is reported by Reuters to be asking for even more cash for its CSeries airliners from the provinces appropriately named Caisse pension fund.

Caisse is already a major equity holder in Bombardier, which is the highest profile industrial enterprise in Quebec, and best known in this country for its Dash 8 or Q series regional turboprops, which are extensively flown by Qantaslink.

The glacially slow arrival of the CSeries airliners compared to the marketing hype has not helped the prospects for the CSeries 100 or CSeries 300 models, both pitched at short to medium range jet services at more seats than Virgin Australia’s highly popular Embraer E-190 jets but less than those found in medium sized Boeing 737s.

They are however competitive in size and characteristics to the dozens of aged Fokker F100s and smaller numbers of Boeing 717 jets used for resource industry FIFO services as well as on the Qantaslink network.

Come the 2020s those F100s and 717s will, despite the highly attractive refurbishment done on the latter by Qantas, become increasingly costly to maintain. Assuming unit size on such flights will have to grow in the coming decade, the natural replacement for those jets would be the CSeries 300, if it is around by then.

There is also some competition in this space from the new E-2 series of regional jets from Embraer, although they are generally smaller in capacity to the CSeries.

The CSeries should have debuted in the middle of last year and is now expected to be finally certified as airworthy next month.

But everything seems to have not gone as planned in the sales effort. The CSeries offer a highly attractive format of wide five across seats in economy, with large windows, easy loading and highly efficient operations based on the new tech Pratt and Whitney PurePower engines and a lighter yet stronger body relying on significant use of composite materials.

The CSeries go to precisely that part of the single aisle jet market that Airbus and Boeing have abandoned in their own new tech A320 NEO and 737 MAX lineups, both of which have migrated upwards from average cabin sizes or around 150-160 seats to more like 200 seats plus.

The order book for the CSeries suggests that the big two makers knew something that Bombardier didn’t in vacating that space.

Bombardier claims almost 300 firm orders for its new jets, but some of them are considered at risk, and even if all of them were delivered, the project would fall well short of the sales numbers associated with commercial jet making success in the 21st century.

There has as yet not been any reaction to the days old Reuters story. However by coincidence or not, several stories have concurrently appeared, arguing a case for the CSeries family to be of considerable potential value as a unit that could be taken over by Airbus or Boeing.

Those reports are difficult to assess, in that Bombardier is a fiercely independent company, and a foundation stone for the industrial economy of the French speaking province. There has been no reported contemporary discussion by Bombardier of the manner in which such an investment by either of the major jet makers might work.

But something has to start ‘working’ for the CSeries. It needs to keep all its orders and convert all of its expressions of interest or MoUs or whatever  into cash, which is also why it seems it is also talking very earnestly to the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec.

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