Skip to main content

A Bombardier C-Series aircraft is displayed at the Singapore Airshow at Changi Exhibition Center February 18, 2016.Edgar Su/Reuters

At the recent Singapore air show in February, Bombardier Inc. showed up with two business jets, a turboprop and – most importantly – one of its brand new C Series airliners, which the Montreal-based company is desperately trying to sell.

But despite record orders for other aircraft makers from fast-growing airlines in Asia, there has so far been no interest from Asian buyers in Bombardier's sleek new jet.

Bombardier had previously found a buyer in Asia – low-cost Thai carrier Nok Air – for two of its Q400 NextGen turboprops. But at the Singapore air show, the only real bit of good news for Bombardier came from back home, where Air Canada said it could buy up to 75 C Series jets. That purchase gave a huge boost to Bombardier's C Series as Ottawa continues to mull whether to follow the Quebec government and inject $1-billion to stabilize the troubled program, which has been plagued by cost overruns and delays.

The past decade has seen huge growth in Asian air travel, with a lot of the recent surge coming from discount airlines in Southeast Asia and India, where low-cost carriers, or LCCs, have taken off by offering cheap seats to a growing middle class.

But because a key operating principle of LCCs is to use mainly one model of aircraft, much of this growth has only really benefited the world's two largest plane makers and their established family of narrow-body aircraft: Boeing Co. and its Boeing 737 and Airbus Group SE and its popular A320. Both the A320 and the Boeing 737 can seat between 150 and 180 passengers, while the C Series seats between 100 and 150. Aircraft purchases in Asia are outpacing those in Europe, but with big orders coming from a densely populated region where carriers need to fly a lot of people on short-haul flights very cheaply, Bombardier's slightly smaller, more fuel-efficient jet simply isn't getting a lot of attention.

"For that size category of aircraft there is generally relatively limited interest in Southeast Asia," says Brendan Sobie, an analyst with the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.

Both Boeing and Airbus have also developed newer, more fuel-efficient versions of their existing aircraft with the A320neo (for "new engine option") and the 737 Max. But there is also the important matter of fleet uniformity, which is crucial for LCCs. Lance Gokongwei, the CEO of Cebu Pacific, is like many other low-cost airline executives: his fleet mostly consists of A320s.

"I can only speak for ourselves, but as a low-cost carrier we value commonality," Mr. Gokongwei said in an interview. "We're not about to change. Our forthcoming order is for 30 A320neos. We're pretty much set until 2021."

Bombardier did not respond to a request for comment.