Regional aircraft makers cash in at Paris

 - July 27, 2011, 5:20 AM

While Airbus and Boeing padded their already bulging backlogs with billions of dollars worth of deals during June’s Paris Air Show, manufacturers traditionally involved in the regional airliner market walked away from Le Bourget with some rather impressive order and commitment tallies of their own. ATR, for one, set a new record for itself in landing firm orders for 60 airplanes from five customers, making this Paris the Franco-Italian manufacturer’s most prolific airshow ever in terms of sales.

Having collected firm orders for 88 airplanes by the end of June, ATR also handily broke its first-semester record total of 63, set in 2007. Its backlog now stands at 233 aircraft, which accounts for some three years worth of production. 

ATR pitched a shutout in terms of turboprop sales against its only Western competitor in the segment–Canada’s Bombardier, which, although buoyed by a rather impressive performance in the single-aisle narrowbody market, failed to secure a single order for either its CRJ or Q Series turboprop lines at Paris. Rather, Bombardier’s 110- to 145-seat C Series would prove the star of the Canadian company’s lineup, drawing firm orders for 20 CS100s along with options on another six, as well as a letter of intent from Korean Airlines covering up to 30 CS300s.

The Korean Airlines contract would prove particularly encouraging for Bombardier given the runaway order totals the A320neo posted recently. Considered a top candidate for the Neo, Korean hasn’t ruled out ordering the Airbus product, in effect lending credence to Bombardier’s assertions that its C Series can co-exist with the re-engined A320-series jets in the same fleet.

The Korean flag carrier said it plans to place a firm order for 10 CS300s and secure options for another 10, as well as so-called “purchase rights” for 10 more. Meanwhile, the firm orders for the 20 CS100s came from two unidentified customers, each of whom signed for 10 airplanes.

With the C Series business and high profile on the display ramp, Bombardier might have managed to upstage Embraer, but not for its Brazilian rival’s lack of commercial success in the 100-seat market at Le Bourget. While Bombardier displayed a Brit Air CRJ1000 and an Air Canada Express Q400 on the static line, Embraer brought no airplanes to the show, opting for sales announcements as its primary means of fostering name recognition.

The Embraer name appeared on computer screens and news pages early and often, starting with word that Air Lease Corp. (ALC) exercised five options on E190s and added firm orders for another five of the 100-seat jets as well as five E175s. Including the firm order it placed for 15 E190s at last year’s Farnborough show, ALC now holds firm orders for 25 E190s and five E175s.

Embraer’s E190 attracted yet more business from regions in the Far East, Africa and the CIS. Indonesia’s Sriwijaya Air inked an agreement, subject to final documentation, for the acquisition of 20 E190s and signed for purchase rights covering another 10. Kenya Airways, already the largest E-Jet operator in Africa, signed an LOI covering a firm order for 10 E190s and options on another 10 E190s or E170s. Finally, Kazakhstan’s national flag carrier, Air Astana, agreed to buy two E190s and took options on another pair. Air Astana began flying two E190s in May under a lease deal with Jetscape and expects to take delivery this year and next of two more from Air Lease Corp. It plans to take its first owned E190 in the first half of next year.

The Sukhoi Superjet 100, meanwhile, firmly established itself as a direct competitor to Embraer’s E-Jets by finally attracting a legitimate Western European launch customer. Italy’s Blue Panorama Airlines signed an MOU with Superjet International covering 12 SSJ100-95s, the first of which Sukhoi would deliver by the end of next year.

Plans call for the Superjet 100 to welcome a new, larger sibling, possibly one as large as 130 seats in capacity, but not until the original SSJ100-95 loses some weight for Aeroflot and gains some range for Latin American launch customer Interjet of Mexico. Specifically, it needs to shed some 1,750 pounds, a United Aircraft official said following a roundtable luncheon hosted by United Aircraft president Mikhail Pogosyan. Meanwhile, Interjet’s planned hot-and-high operations will require somewhat more than the standard range of 1,645 nm the airplane now offers.

Finally, another new regional jet vying for a piece of the market now dominated by Embraer and Bombardier–the Mitsubishi MRJ–drew an MOU from Hong Kong-based aircraft lease and maintenance company ANI Group Holdings calling for a firm order for five airplanes. ANI Group currently leases aircraft to five Indonesian airlines.

Mitsubishi called the new order an important first step towards cultivating the fast-growing Asian market for Mitsubishi Aircraft outside Japan. Until the ANI signing, Japan’s ANA stood as the only Asian customer for the MRJ.

Neither ANI nor Mitsubishi specified which variant of the MRJ–the MRJ70 or MRJ90–the MOU covers. However, ANI said it would consider placing an order for 20 more airplanes once Mitsubishi launches a 100-seat version, now known as the MRJ-100X.