Boeing Co. is accusing Bombardier Inc. of squeezing the U.S. plane maker's business – all but killing one of its models – by dumping jets subsidized with billions of dollars of Canadian and British corporate welfare into the American market.
The latest skirmish in the battle between the two companies – itself a proxy for the larger Trump administration fight over economic protectionism – played out at an acrimonious hearing of the International Trade Commission on Monday. The quasi-judicial body has the last word on whether Bombardier will face punitive tariffs that will effectively keep its new C Series jets out of the United States.
Kevin McAllister, chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told the commission that airlines have been pressuring him to slash prices to match the deal Bombardier gave Delta Air Lines Inc., in which he alleged the airline paid less than $20-million (U.S.) for each C Series jet.
"They have already injured Boeing and our injury is certain to increase unless you ensure that Bombardier competes on a level playing field," he told the commission. "No new airplane rationally priced … could compete at that price point."
Mr. McAllister said one of his company's models, the 737 Max7, was "at extreme risk" of being driven out of the market by Bombardier.
Boeing's case against Bombardier, launched in the spring, has found a receptive audience in the Trump administration. The Department of Commerce slapped 300-per-cent duties on the C Series in a preliminary ruling in October. Commerce is widely expected to confirm this order in a final determination Tuesday. The ITC will decide whether to keep or overturn the duties in a ruling expected Feb. 9.
Ottawa retaliated earlier this month by pulling the plug on an order for Boeing Super Hornet fighter jets. The fight has unfolded at the same time as Canada, the United States and Mexico renegotiate the North American free-trade agreement at Donald Trump's behest. The talks are at loggerheads, with Canadian and Mexican negotiators rejecting U.S. demands for tough new protectionist measures in the pact.
Much of Monday's hearing revolved around the narrower issue of whether the C Series actually represents a direct competitor to the Max7. Bombardier, as well as the Canadian and British governments, argued that the two planes are so different, Boeing cannot claim that its lack of Max7 sales is a result of Bombardier.
Kim Darroch, Britain's ambassador to the United States, told the hearing that the C Series niche is "a market in which Boeing does not at present compete and has no plans to compete."
He also accused Boeing of hypocrisy in bringing a case based on corporate welfare. "This claim is made when Boeing itself enjoys billions of dollars of U.S. government subsidies for its aircraft. Between 1989 and 2006, Boeing received more than $5.3-billion of U.S. government support."
Company specifications for each aircraft outlined on their websites confirm they do not overlap on seat count. Bombardier says the CS100 can carry up to 135 passengers in its densest configuration. Boeing says the Max7 starts at 138 seats and can go up to 172.
Richard Aboulafia of aerospace consultancy Teal Group told The Globe and Mail that customers would not be shopping for both aircraft. "Either you need a 100-seater or you need a 130-seater. It's a significant difference," he said.
Bombardier has cut a deal to hand control of the C Series to Airbus Group SE, a move that will see C Series planes assembled at the French company's plant in Mobile, Ala. Bombardier has argued the resulting U.S.-made airplane won't be subject to any import duties. Boeing on Monday argued this move was merely a ruse.
"There are no concrete plans – just drawings. There is no construction. There are no legal commitments – just words," said Robert Novick, one of the company's lawyers.
David MacNaughton, Canada's ambassador to Washington, said Boeing was taking advantage of the wave of protectionist populism in the United States to stomp a potential rival. Because of North America's integrated economy, he said, 23,000 U.S. jobs depend on Bombardier's supply chain.
"The anti-trade rhetoric, it has given U.S. companies the permission and others the permission to take actions that they wouldn't have taken before," he told reporters following his presentation to the commission.
Canada's explicit backing of Bombardier in the dispute has been a way to send a broader message of toughness to Washington in the face of the protectionist tide.
"I have said to the Americans at all levels over the last several months: We are fair, we're friendly, we're your closest neighbour and your best friend," Mr. MacNaughton said. "And we're hockey players."