Bombardier Inc.'s former commercial aircraft sales team were "probably not even talking" to the right people in some cases as they tried to pitch the new C Series plane to potential customers, the company's head of investor relations said as she expressed confidence that the new team will win more orders.
Shirley Chenier told the CIBC's Institutional Investor Conference in Montreal Wednesday that the two executives hired earlier this year to lead the company's C Series sales effort, Fred Cromer and Colin Boles, have a full network of airline contacts and know which people to approach as they try to market the new 100- to 150-seat jet.
"It's not quite the same game as with the previous leadership team where they were building relationships and probably not even talking [to people] at the proper level," Ms. Chenier said. "Now the sales team is talking at the proper level for all the [sales] campaigns."
Ms. Chenier's comments underscore the struggle Bombardier has faced trying to sell the C Series jetliner and getting it to market, as well as the pressure on the new sales team. The jet development program is two years behind schedule and significantly over budget, with current development costs estimated at $6.1-billion including money funded by governments and suppliers, according to an Aug. 6 note by Moody's Investors Service.
"It is somewhat of a stunning admission," said Ernie Arvai of U.S. aviation consultancy AirInsight. "[Still,] it's not easy to generate a sale quickly even if you know the right people."
Bombardier is articulating a new optimism of late about the C Series and its prospects, fuelled by better-than-expected performance from the aircraft as it pushes into the final stretch of testing. One metric in particular has grabbed the attention of airlines and other prospective customers, Ms. Chenier said: The jet can fly a maximum range of up to 3,300 nautical miles, about 350 miles farther than originally anticipated.
"That's a big, big deal," Ms. Chenier said. "It makes a difference," and has stoked talks with airlines Bombardier has already spoken to in the past, as well as new clients.
Bombardier has firm orders for 243 C Series aircraft, as well as commitments for another 360 C Series planes. Clients include Lufthansa AG's subsidiary Swiss, which will take delivery of the first units in 2016. Bombardier is engaged in talks with several potential clients at the moment and some of the discussions are in "very advanced stages," Ms. Chenier said.
The plane and train maker is still moving ahead with an initial public offering of a minority stake in its train unit, known as Bombardier Transportation. Asked why the company is pursuing a partial sale instead of selling the entire business, Ms. Chenier said Bombardier wants to keep the unit as a counterweight to its aerospace business, which is highly cyclical.
"There's no intention for us to get out of transportation completely because we like to have that countercyclicality," Ms. Chenier said, noting some rivals have military units to fall back on. "We like to say that it's our defence."