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Airbus-Bombardier CSeries shocker: First thoughts

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Genuine surprise: I was at a reception last night in Atlanta filled with aviation journalists from 18 countries here to see Delta Air Lines publicly debut the Airbus A350 today, and shock wouldn’t be too strong a word to describe the reaction as the news broke. There has been speculation about Bombardier seeking partners for the CSeries program for years, but no one saw this deal coming at this time. In an era when almost nothing stays secret, Airbus and Bombardier kept these talks off Twitter and behind closed doors.

Bombardier concedes it needs CSeries sales help: With Airbus literally paying nothing to gain a majority stake in the CSeries, Bombardier is admitting that competing against Airbus and Boeing in the global mainline airliner sales arena was too heavy a lift. After breakthrough CSeries orders in the first half of last year from Delta and Air Canada, it was expected that CSeries sales would begin to quickly rack up. But sales stalled. Even with CS100s and CS300s performing well in service with Swiss International Air Lines and Latvia’s airBaltic, airlines remained wary of putting their full faith in Bombardier for a mainline aircraft. But now Airbus’s formidable global sales clout will be brought to bear on behalf of the CSeries.

Airbus concedes it failed to adequately address the 100-150-seat market: Bombardier has been saying all along that Airbus and Boeing simply left a blind spot in the commercial aircraft market, focusing their attention on larger narrowbodies and ignoring the between-regional-jet-and-small-airliner segment. Airbus is now admitting this and implicitly conceding the A319neo is inadequate for this market (the A319neo is not, by any means, where the manufacturer’s time and energy in the neo program has been placed). 

Boeing has to be experiencing major whiplash: Boeing thought it had won a quick victory over Bombardier with recent rulings by the US Commerce Department that would have effectively kept the CSeries out of the US market. Now Airbus/Bombardier will build the CSeries in Mobile, Alabama. How can you place 300% in duties on an aircraft built in Alabama, consisting of 50% US-made components, being delivered to Atlanta or other US cities? You probably can’t, either legally or politically, and so Boeing is left shaking its fist at “a questionable deal between two heavily state-subsidized competitors to skirt the recent findings of the US government.”

“Nice little airplane”: I keep thinking of Airbus COO-customers John Leahy touring the CSeries at the 2015 Paris Air Show and then, with a gleam in his eye, dismissively telling reporters that Bombardier had a “nice little airplane.”

Aaron Karp aaron.karp@penton.com 

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