Bombardier Inc. is betting that a business-jet salesman with several billion-dollar orders under his belt can work some magic pitching the new C Series plane that is proving to be a hard sell.
The Montreal-based aerospace manufacturer is promoting Raymond Jones, a certified commercial pilot and Royal Air Force veteran who has helped win some major orders over the past few years for Bombardier business planes, to the position of vice-president of sales for commercial aircraft, including the crucial C Series.
He starts immediately and replaces Chet Fuller, who joined the company almost three years ago and is leaving at the end of 2013 to "pursue other career opportunities," the company said.
The $3.9-billion (U.S.) C Series program – a huge bet for Bombardier – faces growing skepticism from observers and analysts that it can meet its self-imposed deadline of entry-into-service by 2014. Some analysts say 2015 is a more likely window.
The company has not had any new firm orders for the single-aisle jet since June. "The C Series order book is not very good and trying something different can't make it any worse," said Neal Dihora, an analyst with Morningstar Inc.
As vice-president of worldwide strategic accounts for Bombardier Business Aircraft, Mr. Jones and his team have won billion-dollar orders from luxury aviation company VistaJet and fractional ownership firms NetJets and Flexjets.
So far, Bombardier has 177 firm orders for the mid-range C Series out of the 300 chief executive Pierre Beaudoin says he wants to have by the time the aircraft enters service in September of next year. "There seems to have been some discussion somewhere in the [management] chain that it's taking a long time to get there," Mr. Dihora said. "They need some kind of juice to get there."
But Mr. Dihora cautions that Mr. Jones faces a tough market, as Bombardier struggles with soft regional-jet sales and bumps up against industry giants Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS with the C Series.
In another potential blow to sales of Bombardier's new single-aisle jet, Aviation website Flight Global said Tuesday that Air Canada executives will go to the company's board of directors next week with a plan to buy Airbus planes. Air Canada said no final decision has been made.
But industry sources said such a move would fit with a scenario that involves the airline buying new Airbus planes to replace part of its current narrow-bodied fleet.
As part of that scenario, Air Canada would leave open the decision on replacing its 45 Embraer 190 jets, an order for which Bombardier is in the running and has been described by some analysts as a "must win" for the company.
"There is no need for them to announce the deals together, as they are being driven on different time scales," said one industry source familiar with Air Canada's deliberations.
The A320 and A321 Airbus planes with new, fuel-efficient engines are in heavy demand, so production slots are running out.
Bombardier has plenty of C Series production room later in the decade so there is no need to get an order in early, this source said. Some industry sources said Air Canada is close to a deal with Bombardier to buy C Series planes to replace its Embraer 190 jets, but the airline is insisting that Bombardier take the Embraer jets as a trade-in.
Bombardier spokesman Marc Duchesne did not provide any further details regarding the departure of Mr. Fuller, a former U.S. Navy pilot who was hired away from General Electric Corp., where he was president, civil systems at GE Aviation.
"Mr. Jones has been successful with large customer accounts in his previous role," said Mr. Duchesne.
In 2007, he was appointed regional vice-president for Europe and in 2008, vice-president of international sales. In 2011, he became head of worldwide strategic accounts.
The senior global sales position had been vacant since April 2009, and Bombardier added the marketing and asset management functions to the job when Mr. Fuller came aboard.