It has been a damaging few days of bad news stories for Bombardier’s CSeries of regional jet airliners, culminating in Airbus breaking off talks apparently aimed at selling it control of the program for a big discount over its development costs.
The process started less than a week ago with ‘well placed’ out-of-the-blue media stories that this project to build jets taking between 110-160 passengers would be a valuable acquisition for either Airbus or Boeing.
That was followed by more mainstream reporting that Bombardier, based in Quebec, was approaching the Caisse, the Quebec provincial pension fund, for even more money that it has already raised from it as an equity partner, and then this morning’s scoop by Reuters that Bombardier was keen on selling ‘control’ to Airbus.
Later today Airbus confirmed that it had been in such talks, but was no longer pursuing them.
There are three key elements to the CSeries saga.
The design of the CSeries is much admired. It is a high composite single aisle jet with an attractive five across format and large windows and overhead lockers, which on second thoughts, is probably not likely to sync all that well with the finance house passion for jets to be crammed full of seats in stuffy conditions with as little room for free carry on luggage as possible.
(The CSeries cabin is uniquely cold weather friendly. Everyone can walk on board in full winter gear and stuff it all in the bins plus a normal sized roll-on without any drama. It’s an attack on the mean spirited ethos of high density configurations in 737s and A320s that obviously puts airline bean counters off-side.)
It is also a natural replacement for the world’s aging fleets of Boeing 717s, Fokker F100s and as yet less than aged 737-700s and -600s or A319s and A318s, meaning it has fleet planning relevance in terms of deliveries starting some time in the early to mid 2020s!
But the third element, foreshadowed by the above, is that almost no-one needs a CSeries now. Well, almost no-one it seems. There is good support from Lufthansa, which will place the first CSeries into service some time next year with its Swiss subsidiary, and there are around 280 firm, soft, or softish slightly firmish orders or protestations of love out there among other carriers.
Which misses the point for Bombardier, which needs hundreds of firm, signed and sealed orders for the CSeries family yesterday, if not immediately. The alarming state of the programs finances are summarised in this recent Reuters story.
The events of the last few days cast a shadow over the sales prospects of the CSeries because they raise doubts as to whether paying deposits for a future order is prudent. When it comes to specifications the smallest of the new engine tech Boeing and Airbus single aisle designs look increasingly right sized for secondary routes in their 737 MAXs and A320 NEOs, although that is a contest where Airbus is on top when it comes to versions offering between 215-250 seats because of inherent issues in stretching the Boeings to match that capacity.
This could come down to Bombardier offering too little too late yet in a highly attractive design.
The issue might be that however good the CSeries is technically, its makers misread the market.