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Bombardier C Series jet (Bombardier)
Bombardier C Series jet (Bombardier)

Bombardier finds new buyer for C Series Add to ...

Boeing and Airbus have owned the commercial aircraft market for decades, but their dominance of the sector has come to an end.

On the first day of the Paris Air Show, where emerging players in the global aircraft market are showing off their new gear, executives of the leading jet makers acknowledged it's no longer a two-player game.

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"The days of the duopoly with Airbus in the marketplace are over," said Jim Albaugh, CEO of Boeing's commercial airplanes division. Airbus agreed with the assessment.

It was a flattering admission for the ambitious aerospace companies from Canada, Russia, Brazil and China, all of which are launching jets that will soon compete with the smallest Boeing and Airbus models - the Boeing 737, the Airbus A320 and their variants. "We take them all [the new competitors]very seriously but I'm not sure all will be successful," Mr. Albaugh said.

The bad news for those upstarts is that they have to compete with one another as well as the industry giants. Bombardier Inc.'s new C Series jet is off to a slow start, and the market for jets in the 100- to 150-seat-plus category is quickly getting crowded.

Bombardier on Monday announced 10 new sales of the C Series to an unidentified customer. Qatar Airways, however, deferred a decision on placing an order that Bombardier has long hoped would be major.

Meanwhile, China's efforts in the jet market are gaining greater attention. According to Boeing and airlines such as Ryanair, Europe's biggest discount carrier, the plane to watch is China's C919, under development by Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China, known as Comac.

Ryanair and Comac on Monday revealed that they will work together on design elements of Comac planes. Comac president Jin Zhuanglong told reporters that the two companies will sign a memorandum of understanding, though he provided no details. Last year, British Airways signed a similar agreement with Comac. "Eventually they will build a very good plane," Boeing's Mr. Albaugh said.

The budding relationship between Ryanair presumably means that other competitors, including Bombardier and perhaps even Boeing, will have a tough time becoming Ryanair customers. The airline is the second-biggest flyer of Boeing jets, all of them 737s.

Comac made a splash at last year's Zhuhai air show in China and it's trying hard to do the same thing in Paris. In an exhibition hall, it erected a full-scale mock-up of the C919 cockpit and forward part of the cabin. It filled it with Chinese flight attendants, clad in red, who praised the machine that will become China's first medium-sized jet, one that could break into the international market. "More beautiful than an Airbus," one of them said.

Even Bombardier officials privately admit that Comac aircraft could shake up the market (it and Comac are working on some technical, procurement and marketing projects together).

The C919 is slightly larger than the CS300, the larger of the two C Series aircraft under development by Bombardier. It will have 156 seats, two engines and is scheduled to have its first flight in 2014. The CS300, whose fuselage is to be built in China, will have about 145 seats.

The C919 has about 100 orders, all of them from Chinese airlines and airline leasing companies. An order from Ryanair, if it comes, would put the plane on the global map, boosting its credibility.

Akbar Al Baker, the CEO of Qatar Airways, one of the world's fastest growing carriers, said he is taking the new Boeing and Airbus competitors seriously. "Russia and China are both making good airplanes and their technology is Western," he said, referring to the high European and American technology content in the planes.

Comac is only one of several new passenger jets under development around the world. Brazil's Embraer and Russia's Sukhoi, in partnership with Italy's Alenia, are building planes that will compete with Bombardier's regional jets and the larger C Series.

Meanwhile, development of the new Airbus A319neo (for new engine option) is being accelerated to compete with the C Series and other new planes in the 100- to 150-seat category. Boeing may also have a new product in that category in a few years. In a few months, the company will announce whether its smallest plane, the 737, is to be re-launched with new engines or replaced with an entirely new aircraft.

Bombardier's C Series is already feeling the competitive heat, especially from the Airbus A319neo, which will use fuel-saving engines, made by Pratt & Whitney, that are similar to those on the C Series.

Last year, at the Farnborough Air Show in England, the C Series was unable to nail any new customers. The order drought lasted until early this month, when a few more sales came in. Monday's 10 more firm orders takes the C Series' tally to 113 planes, with 109 options.

Bombardier executives played down the likelihood of a mammoth order at the Paris Air Show, but say they fully expect a ramp-up in orders in the next year as the plane becomes better known and skepticism about its in-flight and delivery dates fades away. The company is sticking by its forecast that it will capture half of the estimated 7,000 planes to be built in the 100- to 150-seat category in the next 20 years.

Gary Scott, president of Bombardier's commercial aircraft division, said on Sunday that he was "encouraged" by talks with Qatar Airways for a big C Series order. But the airline's deferral Monday of its decision to buy the plane has some analysts thinking the Qatar is losing interest in the C Series. Still, Qatar CEO Mr. Al Baker praised the plane and said he is still interested in it.

But Bombardier appears to be fighting an uphill battle with the C Series as competition heats up. The Canadian company invented the regional jet market 20 years ago and utterly dominated it until recently. The category in which the C Series competes won't be won so easily.

Follow on Twitter: @ereguly

 
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