Delta Air Lines Inc. has jumped to Bombardier Inc.'s defence in an anti-dumping investigation against the aircraft manufacturer by the U.S. Department of Commerce, asking the government to back off and narrow the scope of its inquiry, documents show.
Boeing Co. complained in April that Bombardier's C Series planes are unfairly subsidized by the Canadian and Quebec government, triggering the U.S. investigation. Filings with the Commerce department show that Delta, which last year ordered 75 109-seat CS100 planes from Bombardier, believes the investigation should be limited only to larger planes. Boeing doesn't actually manufacture planes of the smaller size the airline has ordered from Bombardier and therefore did not compete against the Canadian company, Delta said.
A victory for Bombardier would help it avoid excessive duties on imports to the U.S., keeping it a viable market for the manufacturer – while also giving Delta, a major U.S. carrier, greater choice for future purchasing rounds.
Ross Aimer, chief executive of Aero Consulting Experts and retired Boeing training captain, said Boeing varies its prices depending on the purchaser – and Delta would like to keep that on the low end.
"With airplanes, we're talking millions of dollars of difference in price. … Delta's trying to get the best deal out of Bombardier and Boeing at the same time," Mr. Aimer said. "I don't think they're really mad at each other – it's just the way the business runs."
Boeing's complaint regards aircraft that seat 100 to 150 people. Delta is pushing to have the investigation narrowed to the 125-to-150-seat range, for which Boeing does make aircraft. Its 737 MAX planes and Bombardier's CS300 aircraft have configurations with seating in that range.
"This may present the only time that the Department [of Commerce] can precisely narrow the [investigation's] scope to tailor it to the actual experience of the market participants," the Delta filing reads. "Delta sought to purchase 100-to-110-seat aircraft. Bombardier produces such aircraft. Boeing does not. Large civil aircraft are not commodity products, and the Department should not treat them as such."
Delta suggests in the filings that it turned to Bombardier specifically because it needed 100-to-110-seat planes.
"The ultimate purchasers of CS100s have different expectations and put them to different ultimate uses than Boeing products," the filing reads. "They are designed for routes (or specific flights on routes) for which there is insufficient passenger demand to justify use of a larger aircraft. The CS100 itself does not serve the same function as any aircraft that Boeing or any other U.S. company makes or plans to make."
The documents also show that Delta's senior vice-president of fleet strategy, Greg May, made similar comments in testimony to the U.S. International Trade Commission in May.
The carrier said in the filings as well that Boeing suggested the complaint's original 100-to-150-seat range helps to "mask the reality" that it does not make planes on the lower end of the spectrum.
"We agree with Delta that the Bombardier CS100 does not compete with any aircraft in the Boeing 737 line," a Bombardier spokesperson said by e-mail. "As Delta noted, the CS100 is physically different from the 737, and airlines use the planes very differently. ... Delta highlights one of the many reasons that the trade duties sought by Boeing are unwarranted and unjustified."
Delta did not respond to a comment request, while Boeing officials declined to speak for this story. Boeing first filed its complaint in April, arguing that Bombardier, "propelled by massive, supply-creating and illegal government subsidies … blatantly and intentionally demonstrated its goal of muscling its way into the U.S. aviation market by offering its heavily subsidized planes at cut-rate pricing, to the serious detriment of American workers and [Boeing]." The investigation is expected to be completed later this year.
In a press release the day of the filing, Bombardier said that it "structures its commercial dealings to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations of the jurisdictions in which we operate, including those issues raised by Boeing."
The filings were first reported Tuesday by Leeham News and Comment, an aircraft-manufacturing trade news website.